Agile & Digital

Don’t fall into Silicon Valley’s agile traps

Agile working brings many benefits, but a strict application of agile methodology, intended for software development and originally developed by managers in a narrow monoculture can be an expensive trap.

It is useful to distinguish between organizational agility (the capability of a company to rapidly adapt in response to changes in their market) and agile methodology a set of tools and approach to projects

Whilst agile methodology is well-defined and qualified in the agile manifesto general organizational agility means very different things to different organizations. In some it’s about working from home, in others it’s about trying to apply agile principles to self-directed teams and in some it’s a wholesale organizational redesign as at Spotify.

It is a mistake to take any system developed at another company and another culture and introduces slavishly into your own organization. We’ve come across companies that have tried to shoehorn all teams into two-week sprints and daily meetings – but not everything can be completed in two weeks and not all teams need to meet every day.

It is also a core principle of agile that teams should be dedicated, face-to-face and colocated. This is far from the reality in most of our clients who operate in multiple teams and multiple locations in a post-COVID world.

The agile methodology is steeped in software development and Silicon Valley -type cultures. In these cultures, colocation is the norm and highly interdependent teams of engineers work on very discrete short-term deliverables. If this is not your environment, then implementing agile methodology too strictly can cause problems and even slow things down. It will be interesting to see how they adapt to remote working being a normal part o their ways of working after the pandemic. Several have already reversed policies discouraging home working and some like Twitter have announced people may work remotely permanently.

Pure agile techniques were also developed primarily by engineers focused on task delivery and often frustrated by what they saw as unnecessary complexity. The reality is that these teams operate within a dynamic matrix with business units, functions and teams interrelating and with the same needs for governance and direction as a traditional organization.

Delivering true organizational agility means being fast and responsive but it also means being connected to your market. In a multinational organization you can’t be connected to your market while all being in the same office.

We recommend that you start by being clear about what agility means to you and then look at the ways of working you need to deliver this and how you can cut out waste and delay. If you’d like some help, give us a call.

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