What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the term agile development? Is it something along the lines of responsive and adaptive? Did you automatically equate this to responding and adapting to changing software requirements?
If you responded “yes” to these questions, well, you’re right! But being agile can mean more than that… It can and should be about building a resilient organization.
For the purposes of contrast, consider a hypothetical company that has invested heavily in codifying its internal processes in pursuit of operational consistency and predictability. There is a lot of upfront planning, plenty of reporting and control mechanisms which include using intermediate outputs as key measures of productivity because the work is “optimized” through functional specialization.
What happens when a new situation arises? Do people take initiative, or do they check with (translation: delegate up) others in charge? It’s not too hard to figure out that this type of organization constrains personal initiative. Go against the defined structure and processes of this organization and you better have some very good reasons — and you’re still going to be faced with seeking some difficult-to-obtain approvals.
When the work is designed and controlled by a select few, compliance becomes the order of the day. The danger in this is that people will focus on working the system over approaching the real problem at hand: combining their efforts to produce a desirable outcome for the customer.
In his book Linchpin, Seth Godin asks, “Would your organization be more successful if your employees were more obedient? Or would you be more successful if your employees were more artistic, motivated, connected, aware, passionate, and genuine?” It’s a great question, one that agile development addresses by shifting the focus back to the people in a way that allows them to control their work instead of being controlled by it.
At its heart and soul, being agile is about being a more adaptive and responsive organization. Putting people in control of their work eliminates a great deal of overhead and increases engagement. Teams are expected to self-organize around solving a problem that they own and deliver by working as a team. This allows those who are performing the work to immediately adapt to the circumstances of the business, ideally feeling supported by the organization instead of feeling like they are paddling upstream against the tide. (More on this in a moment.)
I’ll touch more on this in my second post, and also discuss the flip-side… what’s the price of this? How does it change the way the team approaches their work? What must management do to embrace this new model of adaptive resiliency? And what’s the payoff?
About Our Guest Blogger
Dave Moran currently lives and works in Portland, Maine. His work experience includes being a developer, a development manager and most recently, a product manager. Check out his blog, Software Results, which focuses on channeling Dave’s passion for business, software development and writing – with an emphasis on Agile leadership.