The New Agile–Why Is Agile So Popular?

Is it the cool name? Is it the actual successes? Is it the drawings with lots of loops in them?

Might be all, but above all else, there are the perceived (and maybe the not actual) value of agile, that organizations want. Let’s look at those:

  • Reduced waste – When Lean was given its name, it was a genius marketing decision. Lean creates the concept of “do less with more” that executives like so much. Organizations today are so occupied with mitigating risk (much more than innovation), that cutting costs seems as the path to survival. Reducing waste helps cut costs, everybody knows that. Sometimes companies forget that in order to eliminate waste you need to invest in continuous improvement, which is no small investment (automated tests anyone?). But remember, we’re talking about perceived attraction, not what really happens the day after.
  • Increased Speed – Agile reduces time to market. How can it do this magic without raising speed, or how do you guys call it, “velocity”? Agile makes it seem that we can turn the big ship quickly, and leap 500 miles in a single jump. Much like the old days, the investment and commitment in getting there are ignored at that point. Speed however, can now be measured, because Velocity! If we have automated tests, for example,  we can target velocity and see how it increases! That’s where the pressure from management increases and teams begin gaming the system and all kinds of horrible things happen. But hey, that’s the implementer’s problem.
  • Improved Productivity – the vague sister of speed. Everybody wants to be more productive, but no one actually has found a way to measure productivity effectively. Truth is, productivity does not matter that much, it’s more about effectiveness. We can build the wrong product very quickly, but then we’re neither productive or effective. Still to the naked eye and ear, it’s one of agile’s perceived wins.
  • Improved Decision Making – This is where the wisdom of the crowds wins. If everyone is doing agile, that must be the right thing to do. If successful organizations are going agile, they made some great decisions, and apparently agile helped them, because they improved. We want that too! Note that this is a correlation, not causation, yes? But let’s not let that confuse us. The aura of wisdom is not just good for political reasons inside the organization. It also looks attractive to people pursuing careers have probably heard the same about agile, and with this aura, an organization will attract better applicants.
  • Improved Confidence – An agile organization can pivot any time due to agility. Like we already know from the last point, it makes the best decisions, can change them upon failure, and react quickly to changing conditions. That oozes of confidence. You can only make bold decisions with agility. So agile organizations seem able to make bold decisions, and we like this kind of leadership, don’t we? The one that doesn’t hesitate.  We like winners and agile smells like winning.
  • Improved trust and safety – We’re now going deeper, as we’ve moved from P&L realm to people in the organization. Self organizing teams must have trust in each other, and management in them. People want to work in a high-trust environment. People want to be able to fail and learn, and not get beaten with sticks when they do fail. Trust and safety are inferred values, rather than perceived directly. They are great attractors to talents. But caveat emptor: This inference should be checked if it’s real, before jumping ship to a so called agile organization.

For the last 15 years, Agile rose to be the method of choice, because it was attractive. With certifications, it was also supported by stable business methodology of managing talent. As you can see, nobody would want something else. But enough cynicism (at least for now), after all that’s the old agile.

In the next installments, we’ll dig deeper into actual progress within agile organizations, and what it means to the future of organization work.

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