Agile & Digital

The underlying simplicity of new Agile ways of working

Agile working brings a whole new vocabulary from sprints and scrums to tribes, chapters, guilds and squads. These new names and structures reveal an underlying consensus and simplicity in the key tasks that need to be done – irrespective of what you call them.

We compared some of the ways of working currently getting the most attention; strict Agile methodology, self-organising teams (as practised at Spotify) and the more extreme Holacracy.

Despite the different terms there was a lot of similarity in the key functions that need to be performed, and these key functions are very familiar.

  1. At an organizational level there needs to be someone to coordinates the work activity of people focusing on a specific area. Whether we call this a business unit, a tribe or a circle the leaders of these entities allocate budget, set direction and manage interfaces with other tribes.
  2. Groups of people with similar capabilities, career paths and identity need to have some structure that focuses on capability building, capacity and a sense of professional or practical? community – these are functions, chapters or guilds. In the examples of self-organising teams we have come across, the functions seem still to be leading the appraisal process (usually with input from others) .
  3. At the level that does the work we see an emphasis on self-organising teams, though with a lot of structure on roles and process; product owner / lead link – owns the product and the relationship with the customer, whether internal or external, scrum master – drive the process, and Agile coach – focuses on people development and issues.

All of these entities operate in a dynamic matrix relationship with multi-disciplinary teams drawing resources from functions.

It’s a mistake to try to lift an approach and set of terms from another organization and implement them slavishly in your own. Instead we need to work out how and where this will work in our own corporate culture. For example, ING bank have introduced self-managing teams extensively, but explicitly decided not use this approach in their compliance functions.

The three functions we have discussed are familiar and fit within almost any large organization’s current structure of business units, functions and teams. So, what is different?

Behind the labels the main difference in these “new” ways of working is the

  • Emphasis on small team size
  • Higher level of team self-direction
  • Emergent and distributed “management” roles spread throughout the team
  • A fair degree of structure, rules and processes in how the work is done – often defined for a software development environment

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