Following a presentation I did for my colleagues at Altran Belgium, here are some notes about my own perspective on Agile applied to the change in the way companies work today.
Agile is a mindset, a culture, some even say it is a philosophy, so it can be applied to all aspects in life. Specifying “Corporate” means how business and companies handle rapid changes and adapt successfully within their VUCA environment. When becoming Agile, a company’s structure and way of working can be highly impacted.
Over the last century, big companies have been successful thanks to a traditional way of working including command and control mindset, strong hierarchy, focus on quantity, measuring performance through strict standards and minimizing the cost of workers. And most of all, top management has been putting making money first for a long time.
Modern Agile, Customer Satisfaction and… Profit
How can companies succeed in satisfying customers today? Let’s talk about Modern Agile.
First, they take care of their workers because they “Make People Awesome” and “Make Safety a Prerequisite”. These firms bet that if employees are satisfied at work, they will provide satisfaction to customers. Simple, but so true.
Second, they “Experiment and Learn Rapidly” in order to “Deliver Value Continuously”. They know that a short time-to-market and regular update of their products are key elements to keep customers satisfaction high.
Consequently, this new structure and way of working includes light (“flat”) hierarchy, fewer middle management positions, welcoming change and uncertainty, fostering collaboration, having face-to-face conversations (instead of emails), focus on quality, treating workers as assets (not as costs), continuously learning, making teams self-organized and self-empowered, allowing experimentation and (fast) failure to learn.
Focusing on how to achieve quality, instead of quantity, and how to achieve 100% done, instead of “almost done”, is at the core of Agile.
Bringing chaos to a well-structured environment
Some people would say the main disadvantage of Agile is bringing chaos into a well-structured environment. This is not wrong, but of course this chaos can be framed at high-level and it will generate benefits after some time. Usually, when initially implementing Agile, we observe a period during which teams are less productive: this is the necessary time to change habits and mindset. People go through a learning phase and need time to adjust to the new process.
What’s next for Agile?
Agile will soon celebrate its 20th birthday, and we have to keep in mind that it was originally designed for better software development. In the last few years, Agile has been reconsidered as a solution for a better workplace, especially in the IT industry. Due to the recent big technology and business changes (disruptions in some cases) with digital spreading at all levels in all industries, the scope of Agile is becoming incredibly wide. Now, it is about how to win in this amazing world of competition or at least how to survive in this constantly changing world, and almost all industries, services and products are impacted.
To meet this challenge in the long run, companies will have to focus on bringing “tech people” (mainly developers) closer to “business people” (in the same room ideally). Together they have to reduce delivery cycles and feedback loops, keeping in mind to provide new business value in short and regular iterations -the final goal being to maintain a competitive advantage. In other words, the Continuous Delivery movement is one the future (but already ongoing) developments in the Agile Way Of Working. (To learn more about this, have a look at ‘DevOps’)
One of the most important changes might be that middle management disappear, because people will work more autonomously and they will be able to define their strategy and take decisions. Top management will act more as enabler: they will provide all necessary means (such as infrastructure and funding) to “craftsmen” (or knowledge workers) to deliver service or products. To know more about this topic, I strongly recommend reading “Management 3.0” by Jürgen Appelo.