Does Agile Transform a Business?

Let us talk about your day so far, perhaps it’s gone something like this:

After your commute to work, you’ve arrived at the office, opened your laptop, and then sat back gazing out the window, dreaming of the upcoming weekend.

Graphic showing an bird's eye view of a motorway within an industrialized urban environment. Indistinct infographics, charts, biographics, and other stand-ins for information overlay the image.

Let’s analyse that seemingly mundane and normal situation…

In the early 19th century, within the industrial north of Britain, a voluntary arrangement between factory owners and workers came to be, allowing Saturday afternoon off from 2 pm in agreement that staff would be available for work sober and refreshed on Monday morning. Thus, the weekend was born.

Interestingly, the Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of the term weekend to 1879.

So now, we get to dream of weekends.

As for your drive to work, well, in England 100 years ago, there were no speed limits on the motorways. This may lead you to think this could have been rather exhilarating, but unfortunately, there were no motorways either. Additionally, the British-made car, Austin Twenty, only had 15 horsepower so it wouldn’t have been a high-speed drive down that fantasy motorway.

Nowadays, we do get to drive to work, often on motorways.

We may even do our work exclusively on the laptop computer and its most essential lifeblood, the Internet. Well, of course, they are comparatively brand new compared to the concepts of weekends and motorways. Honestly, though, can you imagine a world without these technologies?

Why has this blog taken you on this silly time-travelling journey? Simply put, people within businesses struggle with the idea of a transformation without realising all they have ever known is change. As the above facts show, transforming is all you and I have ever done. Whether it’s child to adult, single to relationship or young to old, it is the nature of things to transform. So, this means that transformation will happen, whether intentional or not. It’s the nature of the world.

An Agile transformation is an organised transformation that exists within a constantly changing and evolving world. Ok, now that we understand the context, let us consider the idea of an Agile transformation.

Agile is a set of values and principles, usually aligned to a delivery framework such as Scrum. Agile is not specifically a way of changing companies. Could I ask you to re-read the last sentence?

Unfortunately, this widespread misunderstanding is as common as the misconception that Scrum and Agile are the same things. The Agile set of values and principles are a way of being, a way of guiding our interactions and behaviours with our colleagues. They can also guide a transformation, but they will not cause it alone. Transformation requires investment and intent. Quite simply, you must first know where you are (not as easy as it sounds) and why you want to change – “I want us to be Agile because it’s faster.” is not sufficient. Only then can we start to discuss how we get there and begin to build a plan.

So, long answer short; no, Agile does not transform organisations. People (led by Agile values and principles) do., but Agile alone does not deliver it.

Countless organisations that “go Agile” still demand project teams to hit deadlines rather than focus on customer value and end up missing deadlines and then they end up missing their customers too. Countless more organisations carry on managing by dictating to project teams what they should do and how they should do it, rather than building the team’s environment to be successful because the obvious truth is that the people closest to the issue have the best context. In other words, not to control but to seek to empower others.

This example of fundamental mindset shifts is critical and cannot be avoided. They are the things that provide the transformation. An intentional transformation from one state to another is a large grouping of mindset shifts. This is a separate effort from product delivery projects and will require a distinct investment in a business transformation team, training, and coaching. It is an additional and different investment to current existing work.

Why are companies seeking this transformation? Probably because they are waking up and seeing a new world around them. The world is not going at the speed it once did. Sounds silly, I know, but consider some of these points:

  • The great continents of Asia and Africa have joined the competitive marketplace – the number of competing companies in the world is vastly greater, so fewer companies will survive this competition.
  • Population has grown massively – the global population has doubled since 1970. These people are all independent, demanding consumers. They expect choice, and they want things their way.
  • Companies have product creation and delivery marked in days not months.
    Technology innovation is not at a steady growth rate. It is at an exponential rate.

This means that managing human beings like cattle and thinking that they need to be told how and when they need to do something is yesterday’s news.

So, what transforms a business? Mindset shifts. Changing our personal approach to the world around us is what we’re looking for now.

As a species, we’re going to embrace an Agile way of working, yes, but we need to make a decided investment in improving our mindsets and our approach. That is the way to transform our organisations.

Want more?

Watch our webinar, Turning Business Agility into Competitive Edge, and learn what it takes to resolve the cultural and practice misalignments that prevent organizations from gaining the competitive edge that’s vital for success in today’s business landscape. Available now, on demand.

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