Trond Frantzen, Managing Partner & Chief Business Requirements Expert | The PowerStart Group
One thing I’m sure of is that an ‘agile’ project or ‘agile’ environment is really a frame of mind, rather than a process. It’s a paradigm or mental model of how we can approach our work. It’s certainly not a methodology, although that is the common perception.
An agile business environment means … delivering business value as quickly as possible to the client, and then to foster continual improvement of that business value. “Delivering business value as quickly as possible” doesn’t just mean getting a project done; it means to deliver value in how we interact with our business partners, our customers, clients and suppliers … and how we are seen to do so. ‘Agile’ also means empowering teams to adapt working practices according to the needs of their individual business areas, and to eliminate any unnecessary bureaucracy from years gone by.
This also means not doing anything you don’t have to do (but to make this decision you need to know why it was needed in the first place), and encouraging the team to think outside the box to minimize doing things in a certain way just because they have always been done that way.
To accomplish this, we have to recognize (a) that we are doing something that we may not need to do; and (b) what we’re doing is only being done that way because it has always been done that way. In other words, we have to be aware of the conflict, which is easier said than done. It’s an interesting conundrum. If we are not experts in the conventional approach, then how would we know if a different approach is better? What’s our benchmark? What do we compare to?
‘Agile’ doesn’t mean doing something differently just because we can do it differently. ‘Agile’ doesn’t mean doing less of the work, just to beat the clock. ‘Agile’ means knowing which best practices really are best rather than not. Remember also that there are lots and lots of so-called best practices heralded by maintainers of the status quo. Bear in mind that “best practices” have usually been around a long time for them to be declared as best practices by the community. And many of these “best practices” have long passed their best before dates.
Also, ‘agile’ does not mean chaos in the business. It means finding the straightest road to the planned destination (i.e., the value the client is looking for), and then taking that road even when others think you should take a more conventional and safe route … often circuitous and full of old-school bureaucracy, which will always take a lot of time.
‘Agile’ also means learning new approaches, methods, and a new way of thinking; not just blindly sticking with methods that haven’t changed in years, without any indication things are getting better (doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results). It also means to not avoid doing what’s required (some of the administrative things) just because it seems faster that way. Times change. Methods change. But chaos is never welcome in the boardroom.
Granted, some individuals and organizations take this too literally (which is always a danger when we hear someone say, “the team is empowered to respond to change over following a plan”), which can lead to a challenged and chaotic environments because of lack of professional discipline. There’s more to a business than fast work; just like there’s more to a business than just revenue. If your team delivers value, then it’s a success.
Above all, if we want to foster an agile business environment, we must involve our team, our clients, and our suppliers; and involve them a lot.
Always recognize, as the first principle, that we serve our clients – whether clients are part of an internal group or are customers outside our organization.
Recognize also that our business environment is rapidly changing around us, whether we like it or not. How we work with our business partners (our staff, clients and suppliers) will change as our business partners come to understand their own needs even better. The issue for us is how to deal with those changes, since history tells us that change is good. This is what improvement is all about; so when a client (or a team member, or a supplier) wants to change how they interact with us or anyone else, it’s actually a move in the right direction.
In my opinion, ‘agile’ means being fast and responsive, focused on delivering value, but without chaos and risk.
Thomas Kuhn, in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” used the term “paradigm shift”. He argued that rival paradigms are incommensurable; that is, it is not possible to understand one paradigm through the conceptual framework and terminology of another rival paradigm. I certainly agree with that. Therefore, any ‘agile’ approach to work cannot be measured using the metrics applied to conventional approaches.
At the end of the day, our ability to respond to the needs of our business and workplace is far more important than mindlessly following the rigors of a book of rules and regulations, printed neatly and all fixed in a point in time. I’m not at all suggesting that old-school methodologies and approaches to work are not important. They are. But flexibility, responsiveness, value delivery, and direct interaction are the key to success.
The quality of the work we do is always directly related to our education, professional development, experience, and the quality of the methods we use and the thinking applied. And our willingness to go where others have not dared.
So, go forth and be agile. Use modern methods. Eschew old-school “best practices” that have passed their best before date. Be strong.