When talking to clients over the past few months I have noticed that the request for the implementation of agile methodologies has significantly increased. It seems that agile is deemed as the panacea for all organisational problems.
I noticed that all decades are characterised by organisational methodologies trends: e.g. in the 90s it was process re-engineering.
Now it is seems that agile is the flavour of the moment. The problem is that, whilst if properly applied it delivers great results, it is not a one size fit all solution. There is a place and a time for agile.
Agile methodology and tools have their roots in software development and the Agile Manifesto (2001) was created in response to the need to being able fulfil the requirements changing throughout the course of a project. The pillars of Agile are identified in a) individual interactions over processes and tools, b) working software over comprehensive documentation, c) customer collaboration over contract negotiation, d) and responding to change over following a plan.
Agile is not simply a methodology: a set of tools that are applied and voila’ you see the magic happening before your eyes. Agile is in fact a complex capability that, to be successfully implemented, requires a shift in the company’s culture, individuals’ skills and mindset, capability and management style.
In order for agile methodologies to be successfully translated into organisations there are several elements that have to be in place: please note that these are not a nice to have. These elements are a must have:
- Resilience: the ability of an organisation to bounce back after a crisis and to learn from its mistakes. The problem with most organisations is that innovation and ability to make mistakes (not all innovative ideas are going to be successful) are not an option. We see a revolving door of CXOs whose tenure is getting shorter and shorter. They are required to deliver results in a short period of time: if they don’t succeed they are swiftly replaced. This short termism mentality, as well as an aversity to risk and hierarchical structures, are not conductive to a culture that is going to nurture an agile capability in the organisation.
- Culture of innovation: if the top team of an organisation is risk averse and does not promote innovation and experimentation required for agile to be successfully implemented, the methodology is not going to work.
- Company structure: if the company is hierarchical, decisions are taken only after all facts have been submitted and analysed agile is not going to succeed. For agile to work it requires flexibility, speed and efficiency. Agile is based on continuous feedback, on the ability to swiftly redeploy resources and to act quickly to respond to customers’ requirements. Agile requires people to work autonomously in small non-hierarchical teams. If the company structure is not conductive to this way of working agile is not going to be successful.
It is very likely that agile will fizzle out probably because, due to unsuccessful implementations, many organisations will say that it does not work and they will be ready to move on to the next fave of the moment.
However, the real problem isn’t that agile does not work. The real problem is that agile requires specific elements to be in place in order to be effective. If these elements are not satisfied, this capability cannot be successfully developed.
If your organisation is hierarchical, with a top management that is averse to risk and innovation, if teams work in silos and decisions are taken only if all the data has been gathered and thoroughly assessed; if experimentation and innovation are not considered as added value but conductive to costly mistakes and there is no intention to modify the company culture and modus operandi simply skip agile. It is not going to work. And that’s not because agile is broken: it is because there are not the conditions for it to be successfully implemented.