The hype around agile invited hundreds of thousands of people to enter the game. However, it seems many just entered methods w/o ever considering the original purpose

Solutions over Products, People (or social systems) over Process, Value over Deliverables, Constantly Collaborating, Trying, Learning and Improving, amidst ever increasing uncertainty. 

To carry out the litmus test: at the end it is damned easy to understand, how much value you created, how happy people are to continue with you, and how likely it is, you’ll at least stay in the game any longer.

This is agile – value, collaborating, learning, reflecting, improving. Responding to change, not just reacting to it. Always. And as change will hit in always and even harder, it is really ALWAYS. Just like quality – you can always improve, but you can never ignore it. Finally agile is the essence for agility, the competence of a system, as a whole! Dynamic, constantly moving, adapting.

If your business cares about survival, it cares about agility and so it has to care about its essence. For business agility it is less and less relevant looking at your competitors, but instead looking at top leaders and thriving for becoming a top leader yourself. Just consider examples like Amazon, who continue to disrupt industry after industry and outperform IBM with their cloud services. Or Tesla, who disrupted the automotive industry and left the leaders behind big time (e.g. just listen to Audi’s executive management). This list of disruptors would go on endlessly. To be ready for survival you need to become ready to disrupt yourself.

What is important for any organization: to understand these necessities for agile ways of working in most of their business domains. The necessity to incorporate this way of thinking and acting across their whole business. Just like quality became an indispensable factor via the early TQM movement, hardly any business, where agile capabilities would not be essential for avoiding the exponentially declining life cycle expectation. 

These days markets, customers, competitors just became too fast in nearly every industry. And speed of change in every industry increases every few months just because of a digital economy.

If you still believe, your business can ignore agile, just go ahead and check any of the values and principles. See, what you could easily drop without being punished by your markets soon.

Important to note, that agile is more about principles first and less about frameworks or prescriptive and ever complicated practices. An agile way of working will let its organization and practices emerge, just as it will do so with its solutions. This is probably the core and key of agile as such.

Whether it is Lean Startup for how to learn as early as possible about potential markets and buyers, before wasting tons of money. Or whether it is a Scrum-alike solution development process, collaborative, fast learning (just as documented in the early New New Product Development Game). Whether it is Kanban systems for aligning and constantly improving services, for driving evolutionary change across your business. Or whether you will engage lean portfolios for wisely balancing opportunities, governance, capabilities and capacities.

No need to write up any details about the how. Your organization will need to build it from first values & principles.

Getting there can be easy and hard. Counterintuitively the hard path is copying large frameworks, with tons of effort and little outcome. This will not look at the essence and over the long term rather keep you stuck. The easier part is creating awareness first and primarily on leadership level (just think about the amazing culture change initiative of Microsoft’s Satya Nadella).

Your organization will of course not be able to change from one day to the other. Awareness about needs and about the status quo will serve a valid baseline for triggering a major shift in perspectives across your whole organization. You will be challenged to understand, how your business can still be fit for purpose, while the purpose might need to shift just like the fitness landscape. Agile principles will keep pointing it into the appropriate direction. Agility across the whole business will pay off for playing a vital role in a digital and fast changing economy. 

At the end we are still up to learning, how organizations of the future will look like. Maybe it will be like Amazon or Google or rather an ecosystem of smaller business units like at Haier. Who knows, which work cultures will stay prevalent, when sooner or later most processes will be automated, most people connected and autonomously acting as service providers.

No promises, what it will look like exactly. Methods are coming and will go away. But either way, agile as such is there to stay.

Mike Leber
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