3 Ways to Build an Agile Organization

For the last few years, especially in the software development space, we’ve been hearing the word “agile” thrown around ad nauseam. Concepts such as iterative design, adaptive planning, collaboration, self-organization, continuous delivery, and so on flood the current literature.

I’ve spent the last several years working with clients to develop and improve their agile practices, improving quality and time-to-market. The result has been great for software teams and customers alike. But aren’t we leaving the rest of the organization out in the cold? How can we apply these practices beyond software development, improving the business from the top down?

This is the Agile Organization.

Small companies, like the startups with whom I’ve been involved, embrace agility as their default. Larger, more established companies, tend to move less nimbly as they grow, exposing themselves to disruption by more agile players. Let’s look at a few strategies to help us achieve agility.

Speeding Adoption

Many of my clients have been struggling to implement agile practices throughout their organization, often taking a couple of years to apply it to every program and project. This kind of _variable adoption_ often indicates a lack of commitment to change. With parts of the organization operating at different cadences, tremendous friction develops, stalling progress. I’ve worked with diehards, skeptics, and even saboteurs to make agile a reality. Speeding up the agile adoption process in the face of naysayers requires a leap of faith, but one that is supported by years of supporting evidence.

Everyone is a Leader

One of the secret weapons of Agile’s success is the role of the individual contributor. Innovators, specialists, and organizers all have equal influence. There is no place for a hands-off manager sitting behind a desk in an agile organization. In some of the best performing organizations with whom I’ve worked, the teams often assign deliverables to executives, and not the other way around. Steve Jobs once said, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” The agile organization is a collective; trust in each of your people to take a leadership role.

Decide Fast, Fail Faster

Agile organizations make decisions quickly. This is not to be confused with unmitigated risk-taking. I’ve seen companies grind to a halt under the strain of analysis paralysis, forestalling critical decisions due to perceived risk. Longer development cycles increase this risk substantially. I work with my clients to shorten these cycle times. With smaller, more frequent deliveries to market, we can inspect, analyze, and adapt to change. If we fail, by whatever metric we choose, we can take advantage of the learning to improve our decision making and recover quickly. This is the iterative nature of agile, and therein lies its effectiveness.

Challenge Questions for Business Leaders:

  1. Do you have a stalled agile adoption in your organization, or varying rates of adoption?
  2. Have you empowered everyone at all levels to be a decision maker?
  3. Are you missing market opportunities due to stalled decisions or slow production cycles?

 

© 2015 by Mark Richman. All rights reserved.