Why the Boardroom Simply isn't Getting Agile
Updated: Mar 22
A recent release of a short article and film by the BBC encapsulates perfectly why so many organisations struggle with their so called ‘Agile transformation’
What's the problem?
Many of our clients come to us with the requirement of ‘how do we go Agile?’ and we need to ‘manage our agile transformation better, how do we do this?’.
Throughout the short film created by the BBC, many of the featured speakers from CEOs, their advisors, to senior management figures discuss what they believe Agile is and how they intend to get to transform their organisation to arrive at their ‘Agile El Dorado’. Throughout their film, the following main concepts are touched upon by nearly every single person that features, concerning what Agile is from the perspective of the management and the C-suite. I have briefly dissected some of the comments made...
'Agile is a new way to lead a business'
Statements like this one are part of the problem, 'Agile' is such a broad, wide and in some cases a relatively meaningless term. So by stating that Agile is the new way to lead a business, many organisations will be confused by this as it simply does not provide any answers or information. Business agility practices, frameworks, methodologies and processes may be right for certain parts of the organisation, products and services but is Agile a form of leadership? Planning for change, focusing on waste, improving quality and responding to market and customer change is important from a strategic point of view, but that doesn't mean we have to label everything ‘Agile’ without an understanding of what it really means.
'Instead of following a plan, teams have to work everything out for themselves'
This comment is just too stupid to believe but we hear it frequently: of course, Agile practices include planning. Roadmapping, visioning techniques, story mapping, market and competitor analysis, estimation workshops, user story workshops, refinement sessions, Defining Ready and Done, The list goes on. Agility is concerned with planning enough to mitigate unnecessary risk, but not so much that its wasteful, and if a change in direction is required, then teams and the organisation are open and able to deliver it. This may seem like a harmless statement but for people facing the 'scary agile transformation,' this creates a significant amount of organisational stress, worry and more importantly inertia.
'Using traditional management techniques to force Agile on the business wont work'
CEOs, management and executive advisors need to get their hands dirty for something as a large as a ‘transformation’. They too need training, they need to set up an empirical metrics framework to invest and steer the ‘Agile’ direction of the company. Executives must take one product or project, start small, plan just in time and iterate for their transformation and roll out to small increments of the organisation one piece at a time. Do it properly or don’t bother. I’m not sure that comes through.
My conclusion...it is the practices, behaviours, frameworks, process, and values that you enact and uphold as an organisation that makes a business 'Agile’, and not the other way around. Simply branding some sort of business change with a buzzword carries significant negative connotations and this alone can often be the injured Achilles heel of the organisations ‘agile transformation'.