A key part of your organisation’s journey of transformation will be becoming Agile.
The Agile movement in Software Development started circa 2001. It defined 4 Agile values and 12 Agile principles that groups could adhere to in order to become much better at delivering business value from technology development.
Today, businesses must constantly provide personalised products and services at scale. These are enabled by technology, but technology itself is not sufficient. When traditional organisations use digital technology to create products and services they typically fail to achieve benefits beyond simple cost savings. Creating a new kind of customer experience requires the speed, flexibility and intimacy with the customer that Agile only provides.
Today’s rapidly evolving marketplace requires organisations to become Agile. In a competitive setting, technology is available to all and must be adopted in order to avoid falling behind. Any competitive advantage will come from how much and how quickly the organisation co-evolves with its technological capability. The culture, behaviours and processes of an advanced technology-enabled, customer-centric enterprise are what I call Agile.
Values and principles are at the core of the original Agile Manifesto. While each organisation will become Agile in its own way, your Agile journey should start by setting your own flavour of these as a guiding light.
- Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools
- Working Software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to Change over following a plan
These can quickly be generalised by replacing Working Software with the relevant unit of delivery for your organisation (i.e. Working Products). Contract negotiation may be replaced by meetings and committees as well.
- Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
- Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
- Working software is delivered frequently (weeks rather than months)
- Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
- Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
- Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
- Working software is the primary measure of progress
- Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
- Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
- Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
- Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly
Again, these can be easily customised by replacing mentions to software with products and other small changes.
Values and principles will be essential to enable your next big step:
Small, multidisciplinary, self-organising teams
Small teams are universal in all Agile organisations. These teams are highly autonomous, having people with the skills, information and tools to be able to their work in a single, uninterrupted process. Teams such as these require a few key components:
- A clear definition of success, so everyone in the team understands how the teams contribute to the organisation
- Highly skilled individuals, with deep technical knowledge in each of their disciplines
- Trust in each other, gained through recognition of each other’s skills as well as constant face to face conversation and collaboration
- A first among equals management approach, where most decisions are made by the group and a member is able to break ties, ask people to disagree and commit and ensure work continues at pace if needed
Agile teams create great business value. They do this by obsessing about creating value for the customer. Early in the Agile maturity journey, product owners represent the customer and play the first among equals role to ensure customer value is the primary driver. Later on, everyone has a clear line of sight to the ultimate customer, and understands how customers can maximally benefit.
The entire organisation will shift everything it does, including its business models, to generate maximum value for the customer, in the process removing everything that doesn’t directly contribute. It will be difficult to let go of traditional processes, checks and balances that are currently seen as very important (ask me about the Red Binder if we cross paths). However, a sharp focus on brilliant customer value activity and nothing else will be rewarded by customers and the market with ultimate success.
A business ecosystem
Agile organisations don’t have bureaucratic, rigid structures. People organise themselves along Communities of Practice, Communities of Affinity, and of course Teams. Communities of practice bring people with the same skillset together, ensuring they continue to develop their skills, tools and methodologies, becoming better at what they do every day. Communities of affinity are more organic and bring people together based on common interests or objectives. These communities create shared goals, transmit best practice and are key to creating a culture of collaboration and success. Finally, Teams are transient structures which bring people together around the practical delivery of work. These teams coalesce, self-organise, evolve and disappear with the natural ebb and flow of work.
Teams come and go constantly, therefore organisations must invest in their communities in order to provide stable structures for management, development and social interaction.
The walls of an Agile organisation are extremely porous: communities’ and teams’ membership is not limited to salaried employees. Contractors, partners, suppliers, customers and other actors contribute people to all these structures. An Agile organisation is inclusive, and people are embraced because of their skills and their ability to contribute, not just the name in their contract of employment. Traditional corporate structures around security, access and reward will be extremely challenged in an Agile organisation and will have to change fast to enable the ecosystem to flourish.
Managing the Agile enterprise
Self-organising teams, obsessive customer focus and an open, porous ecosystem. Sounds like a very different type of organisation, as it indeed is. How can we support change of this magnitude? What do we have to do to remain in control of such a different organisation?
Mature, scale Agile is still developing but it’s easy to see how successful organisations have tackled the challenge:
- Start with values and principles: self-organising, autonomous teams will build on those
- Set clear business goals and metrics: every individual needs to understand how they add value
- Establish a new hierarchy: an enterprise is a social construct, and all social constructs tend to develop hierarchies. Agile organisations are no different – their hierarchy develops around competence, not authority; and the type of competence needed can fluctuate as goals change and new information is acquired
- Invest in skills, communication, data, insight, tools, technology and methods – only the best will do, for your customers, your colleagues and your organisation
- Aim to be the best at what you do: customers will choose the best product, and any technology-enabled marketplace will over time become winner-takes-all. Attract the best people, give them the best tools and challenge them to build the best products and services.
Are you ready to embrace Agile? Can you allow small, multidisciplinary teams to evolve; become obsessed with customer value; and destroy any and all silos to transform your organisation into a network with porous walls connected to the wider ecosystem?