Agile 101 (Part 1 of 3): Agile vs. Agility

Or Agile 101 for Smarties

Business agility and agile methodology have long surpassed any danger of being labeled flavor-of-the-month business trends. While various approaches pre-date it, The Agile Manifesto published in 2001 is credited with igniting the trend (beginning with, and now expanding beyond software development) toward project management approaches and business strategies designed for rapid innovation and adaptation. 

Organizations across industries and around the globe are adopting agile frameworks to increase revenue, reduce costs, and time to market while minimizing risk and maximizing value. 

Studies estimate that upwards of 75% of organizations are currently using or soon plan to adopt agile at some level (Freeform Dynamics, 2018). 

These trends don’t mean that agile is right for every project. Sometimes more traditional waterfall project management is best, especially if your project(s) is clearly defined, fairly routine and has minimal chance of new discoveries or changes along the way. Nonetheless, chances are good that you or your organization are using an agile methodology, such as Scrum or Kanban, in at least one of your teams. Perhaps you have been asked to join a Scrum team or take on some other role in an agile team.

Your company may be in the midst of an agile or digital transformation, and you hear terms like SAfe® or enterprise agility. Or, maybe you simply understand that to stay competitive in your industry, responsive to your customer needs, and a rapidly changing marketplace, you, your team, and entire organization need to be more agile.

SCRUM AGILE LEANBecause I have been working with leaders, teams, and organizations across industries that fall into each of these categories in recent years, and am frequently asked to distinguish between various agility terms and approaches, I have written this series of articles on the topic to help you distinguish between overall organizational agility dynamics and practices, and specific agile methodologies and frameworks so that you can begin to determine which might be right for you.

This series is not intended as an in-depth discussion of each approach, however, throughout each post, you will find links to additional detail that may be helpful in your exploration.

My intention is to provide leaders at all levels of the organization a broad view of the approaches that organizations across industries are using, to call out some of their critical success factors potential pitfalls that are often overlooked in the initial burst of enthusiasm.

With this big picture in view, my goal is to save you time, money and heartache and set you up for a wildly successful agility shift. 

Agility vs Agile Frameworks and Agile Methodologies

In this first post in the series, I will provide a very high-level description of some of the approaches that agile project teams are using to improve their processes and results.

I will go into much more detail on the topic of business agility in Part 3 of this series. Broadly, I view agility with an understanding that organizations are human systems of interaction. This means that we make sense of what is going on and get things done with and through other people. A humanistic understanding of business agility points not to a dictionary definition, but to a competence statement:

Agility is your ability to respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned and quickly turn challenges into opportunities (The Agility Shift, 2015).

The individual, team and organizational capacities required to develop and sustain this competence require continuous attention and are the foundation for the successful implementation of the agile approaches I overview in this post. Rather than think of business agility and agile frameworks and methodologies as separate, they are interdependent.

What is the Difference Between Scrum, Lean, and Design Thinking?

Many agilists (people who embrace agile principles and practices or a specific agile approach) are fond of saying that “there is no agile methodology,” only agile frameworks that provide concepts and guidelines for improved project management and delivery.

In practice, most agile teams settle on and adopt a specific methodology. From here on out, I will refer to these as methodologies, recognizing that each approach is intended as a set of guiding principles and practices that can (and should) be adapted and refined to fit your needs.

Whether you are practicing Scrum (by far the most common agile methodology), Kanban, Crystal, XP or others (see brief descriptions of several methodologies here), agile methodologies share the same goal: to minimize risk and maximize value.

Agile vs. Agility SCRUM

 

Sample Scrum Overview

Agile methodologies, as practiced today, began in manufacturing, were modified in software

Agile software development

The Cycle of Agile Software Development

development, and are now used widely across domains for everything from new product development, marketing, event planning, learning and development, and R & D, to name just a few.

Regardless of the focus, agile methodologies center around rapid prototyping cycles (often called sprints) with each iteration focusing on delivering the highest value aspects of the project for inspection and adaptation.

In close collaboration with the end-user or other key stakeholders, agile teams quickly receive feedback that they use to inform planning and priorities for the next cycle.

 

When You Should Consider an Agile Methodology

Agile methodologies are ideal for complex projects where discoveries are likely to be made at each iteration, and requirements are likely to change as other new information becomes available.

Changing requirements and new learning are why IT projects are now almost exclusively developed using agile today. The exponential growth in agile is due to the realization that any complex project can benefit from an agile approach, such as marketing campaigns, change management, mergers and acquisitions, even family life

 

Critical Success Factors: There is a significant learning curve associated with adopting and implementing an agile methodology. It takes time to build what I call the Three Cs of the Agility Shift: Competence, Capacity, and Confidence. Before embarking on this learning curve, ask yourself:

  • “Do we have the commitment, resources, and patience to progress from novices to experts?”
  • “Do we have leadership buy-in and support?”
  • “Do we understand and have the willingness to make the mindset shift necessary for this new way of working to thrive?”

If the answer is yes to these questions, I highly recommend you and as many of your colleagues as possible start, as I did, by getting your ScrumMaster® Certification or share another immersive learning experience to become familiar with your agile methodology of choice.

 

Lean 

LEAN ManufactoringIn the same eco-system as agile methodologies, Lean approaches are designed to maximize customer value and minimize waste. While most strongly associated with its manufacturing roots,

Lean is also used in service delivery. As its name implies, the goal is to create the leanest, or most cost-effective value chain through experimentation and testing, to discover or refine standardized processes. Organizations from healthcare to consulting are adopting the principles and practices of lean.

 

When You Should Consider Lean

With its focus on cost and waste reduction, as well as efficiency, lean can be particularly useful LEANfor systems and processes that are relatively routine and include many moving parts. 

 

Critical Success Factors: Focusing solely on cost reduction and efficiency at the expense of continuous learning and innovation, which are processes that can be inherently messy. Meeting time and budget goals can lead to something called “technical debt,” a concept rooted in software development that applies more broadly.

It is a “debt” that is incurred when a team chooses an expedient but flawed solution that has to be paid, usually with interest, at a later date when the overlooked problem is even bigger and more expensive to solve.

 

Design Thinking

With many of the characteristics of agile methodology, design thinking, or human-centered design (HCD), might also be worth your consideration. While agile is considered a project management approach, design thinking is geared toward problem framing and solving (or alternatively, opportunity finding and exploiting). The human experience is central in both agile and design thinking.

Agilists often start by understanding the user experience and translating those experiences into user stories which include a statement of a user experience that needs to be improved; while design thinking teams start with empathizing with the person(s) who have the problem they have identified and craft user statements as their starting point to generate innovative solutions.

The most common design thinking framework includes the stages in the graphic below, with the understanding that there is no one right way to execute each phase. Tim Frick and Emily Lonigro, CEOs of their respective Chicago-based digital media companies, Mightybytes and LimeRed, have written an excellent article that details two business examples of how they have applied design thinking and HCD in their businesses. Lest you think design thinking is exclusively for creative businesses, check out how global logistics company UPS regularly applies the approach to identify and solve customer problems, reporting: “We can’t emphasize enough the importance of rapid prototyping, testing with real customers and iterating or even pivoting based on those learnings.”

  

Design Thinking Overview

When You Should Consider Design Thinking

Design Thinking OverviewDesign thinking and HCD are especially useful when you have a complex situation with many stakeholders and need a process to clarify the problem or opportunity by engaging many perspectives. It is also excellent when innovation is your top priority.While not the originators of design thinking (here is an excellent history) IDEO has become a leader in applying and teaching the process for new product and service development as well as for humanizing, simplifying, and solving complex organizational and social issues.

Critical Success Factors: Design thinking is a highly participatory approach, and to do it well, you need to make time and space to engage multiple perspectives, experiences, and voices of those who have or are touched by the issue.

It may be tempting to leapfrog over or truncate this stage in the interest of saving time and money, but doing so will undermine the essence of the process: the humans at the center of HCD. These diverse experiences and perspectives provide valuable insight to spur innovation; they can also disrupt your assumptions about the issue.

Do not start a design thinking process if you are already attached to your preconceived ideas; DO start the process if you are willing to listen and be surprised by what you discover.

Once they have experimented with and adopted agile methodologies in one or more areas and begun realizing the benefits, many organizations begin to scale these approaches across the enterprise. In Part 2 of this series Agile 101: Enterprise Agility Strategies, I overview the most common approaches and pitfalls of enterprise agility.


 

Are You Ready to Make The Agility Shift?


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D., is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. As president of Meyer Agile Innovation, Inc. she is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with agile teams, as well as leaders across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Agile 101 (Part 3 of 3): Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders

Agile 101 (Part 3 of 3): Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders

Developing and Sustaining Agile Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

In Part One [insert link] I shared the inspiration for this three-part series. In a nutshell, this series is for anyone whose organization has made agility a top strategic priority. This includes, but is not limited to, companies that are adopting agile methodologies at the team level, are starting to scale agile across the enterprise (see Part Two of this series), or have more broadly understood that business agility is critical to staying competitive in a rapidly changing world. This final post is for you if your organization fits any of these categories, and you want to assure that your investment in business agility delivers the results you seek.

“Where Should We Start?”

The question above is the first one leaders ask after committing to being more agile. Of course, before we can answer that question, we must agree on what are we talking about when we talk about agility?

Broadly, I describe agility as your ability to respond effectively to the unexpected and unplanned and quickly turn challenges into opportunities.

This is not a dictionary definition but a performance statement. The leaders I work with don’t need to know what agility looks like on paper; they need to know what it looks like in action.

The goal of any agile initiative is not agility itself, but sustained performance through both stable and volatile conditions.

To consistently achieve this level of performance, the organizations I have researched and work with consistently attend to each of the six dynamics of the Agility Shift. To fully understand each dynamic and how to bring it to life in your organization, I direct you to my book, The Agility Shift: Creating Agile Leaders, Teams and Organizations, as well as my website for additional resources. Below is a brief introduction to each of the dynamics:

Relational Web

Relational Web: The network of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or a new opportunity emerges. 

Relevant: The ability to understand current trends, customer and workforce needs, and adapt to stay relevant to and competitive in the market. 

Responsive: The ability to respond in a timely and effective way to unexpected and unplanned challenges and opportunities.

Resilient: The ability to quickly regroup when things don’t go as planned.

Resourceful: The ability to make optimal and innovative use of available resources.

Reflective: The ability to learn the lessons from experience and thoughtfully apply those lessons to new and emerging situations. 

Agility and Agile methodologies are certainly not mutually exclusive. You don’t need to adopt a specific agile methodology to improve your leadership, team, or organizational agility. Yet, adopting an agile methodology without attending to the necessary mindset, culture, and practice shifts will not yield the hoped-for results, especially over the long haul.

Making the Mindset and Culture Shift So Agility Can Thrive

Now that we have a shared understanding of agility and the six dynamics necessary to sustain it, we must understand and make (and continue to make) the mindset and culture shift required to thrive in this radical (for many) new ways of working.

A recent joint global survey by Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance of 1,000 C-suite executives across industries that found 83% of respondents cite an agile mindset/flexibility as the most essential characteristic of today’s C-suite (2018).

At its core, an agile mindset and culture value learning and change over planning and control.

In my research of more than 1,500 leaders at all levels of business and industry, an agile mindset is tightly linked to two key aspects of agility: Responsiveness and Resourcefulness.

Responsive and Resourceful

In particular, the ability to quickly turn challenges into opportunities and look for opportunities in the midst of change are strongly connected to Agility Shift Inventory-takers’ ability to be responsive and resourceful. These mindset attributes also strongly differentiate the most agile from the least agile respondents in the Agility Shift Inventory

Reinforcing our research, when Nigel Davies at Forbes interviewed several leaders about the pitfalls of adopting agile, he also found that mindset was a common challenge.

For example, Christopher McFarlane, an agile project manager for Walmart Canada, shared with him, “instilling an agile mindset internally is one of the hardest things about the transition.” Successfully building an agile organization is also an endurance sport, says David Fort, managing director at Haines Watts Manchester, “Being an agile business isn’t a start-stop scenario, it’s a constant shift in culture and balance that has to be regularly revisited. If you stop running as an agile business, you’re likely to seize up. The real challenge is ensuring the agility is fresh, and the team members are focused on being agile.” (Davies, 2019)

Adding urgency to the need to attend to the leadership mindset is that many organizations are not yet seeing the expected returns of their formidable investments in agility because leaders underestimated the mindset and cultural shift that would be required for a successful transformation.

Mindset and culture are directly linked. Mindset influences thinking; thinking influences our actions; culture is created through repeated patterns of thinking and acting.

Version One’s survey of 1,319 leaders in organizations ranging from less than 1,000 employees to greater than 20,000 found that the top challenge in a successful agile transformation is that their current culture is at odds with the degree of communication, collaboration, self-organization and continuous learning that is at the heart of agile practices. Coming in a close second is an overarching organizational resistance to change (13th Annual State of Agile Report, 2018).

There is good news, however. The Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance report cited earlier also found that those organizations that were realizing results from their adoption of agile practices also reported strong cultural alignment, while those that were not yet seeing a return cited organizational culture as the impediment (2018). Leaders have a significant influence over the success or failure of agile initiatives as they set the tone, model, and reinforce the underlying beliefs, values, and behaviors that make up their organizational cultures. 

This growing body of evidence all points in the same direction: any organization that makes agility a top strategic priority, must also prioritize learning and talent development strategies that support the critical mindset and behavioral shifts necessary to achieve the results of these investments.  

Our work in recent years with companies like T-Mobile (see case story and webinar) demonstrates the power of engaging leaders across the enterprise in high-content, high engagement learning, and development experiences and has yielded exciting results. In addition to high net-promoter scores, showing initial enthusiasm, a rigorous analysis of how learning is being applied across the organization is demonstrating significant business value. If an organization like T-Mobile, operating in an extremely competitive environment and through years-long uncertainty of a possible merger can sustain results, your organization can, too. 

Supporting Your Organization’s Agility Shift Through Learning and Talent Development

Just like reaching your health and fitness goals, developing and sustaining business agility, is not a one-time endeavor but a commitment to a new way of life. Fitness experts have found that the secret to sustained success is consistency and variety. The same is true for your organization’s leadership, team, and organizational agility.

Making the Agility Shift

Making the Agility Shift

Attaining a consistent practice for agility requires an approach that includes enough variety to keep your workforce stretching and growing. The strategies we have found most impactful put the mindset shift in the center and build the Three Cs of The Agility Shift: Competence, Capacity, and Confidence. Consistent and innovative learning and development approaches in each of these areas reinforce a culture in which agile thinking and behavior can thrive.

 

Scalable Talent Development Approaches for Agile Leaders, Teams, and Organizations

One of the challenges in supporting organization-wide agility initiatives is providing meaningful and impactful learning opportunities across the enterprise. Whether led by your in-house training team or outside contractors, you are likely constrained by budget, available time (both training professionals’ and employees’ available time), as well as personnel.

We use several highly adaptable strategies to help our clients overcome these barriers:

  • Human Resource Strategies: To ensure an integrated approach across the organization, we often work with HR and Talent Development leaders. Aligning staffing, talent development, performance appraisal, and coaching with agile organizational goals helps assure that you are building a workplace culture in which agility can thrive. 
  • Train-the-Trainer: We work with in-house learning and development professionals to train and certify them in customizable modules that they can then use to lead sessions for leaders at all levels of the organization. We provide an Agility Shift Facilitator Guide and participant materials. This approach offers the most flexible and comprehensive approach for building and sustaining an agile workforce.
  • Agility Champion Training: In this immersive training session, we help designated Agility Champions throughout the organization learn the foundational concepts and best practices of team and leadership agility, while building their competence, capacity and confidence as an agility resource person, coach and activity facilitator. Agility Champions are also trained on and given access to a series of micro-learning resources and Take it to Your Team activities they can use to support continuous leadership and team development. 
  • Agility Lab Micro-learning Resources: Many managers and agile team leaders like to integrate our range of micro-learning resources and guided activities to support team engagement, innovation, and performance. These resources can be used one-on-one or to kick-off a meeting, planning session or integrated into a retrospective.
  • Agility Assessment: Often, the biggest challenge in making the Agility Shift is the mindset shift and understanding how that mindset shift translates into new habits in each of the six dynamics of the agility shift. The Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) helps individuals and teams discover where their greatest strengths and opportunities lie and so that they invest their time and resources for maximum impact.
  • Coaching: Because agile ways of thinking and working represent a significant shift for most leaders and team members, we provide individualized coaching to help contributors make their own agility shift so they can ensure their teams and the organization realize results from their agile initiatives.
  • Leadership Development: An agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds. Now more than ever, organizations need agile leaders at all levels of the business who can lead effectively in the midst of rapid change and uncertainty. Your current and emerging leaders need to be able to consistently model and inspire others to make the Agility Shift.
  • Team Development: Agile organizations are team-centric and increasingly networked. The best investment you can make is in team success, whether or not you are adopting agile methodologies, teams need to be able to effectively innovate and adapt, as well as communicate, collaborate and coordinate resources. We help teams build their agility competence through high-content, high-engagement development days that integrate reflection and action planning based on the results of their Team Agility Shift Inventory.
  • Customized Solutions: There is no one-size-fits-all solution for any organization. Your business priorities, leadership commitment, environment, and available resources all dictate which strategy is best for you. We work with organizations to determine the approach that will be most effective and sustainable to improve performance.

When You Should Consider an Agile Learning and Talent Development Approach

The good news is that building your organization’s overall competence, capacity, and confidence in agility is compatible with overall organizational agility objectives and each of the agile methodologies and agile transformation approaches described in this blog series. Not only is it compatible, but it is essential that you provide engaging and motivating development opportunities and help your leaders and teams make and sustain the necessary mindset and practical shift required to deliver results. Because we, as humans, are hard-wired to scan our environments for threats (read changes and disruptions) and avoid or resist them at all costs, we need new and continuous practices to help us make the intentional shifts to help us maximize each new disruption and opportunity. Whichever approach you choose, you need to have a strategy that helps your human system of interactions engage with and deliver the positive benefits and outcomes of your agility shift.


Which learning and development approach is right for you?

SCHEDULE TIME WITH PAMELA MEYER TO FIND OUT

 


Pamela Meyer, Ph.D. is the author of The Agility Shift: Creating Agile and Effective Leaders, Teams and Organizations. She is a sought-after keynote speaker and works with leaders and teams across industries who need innovative learning and talent development strategies to make the mindset and business shift to compete in a rapidly changing marketplace.

Additional References

13th Annual State of Agile Report. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.stateofagile.com/

Davies, N. (2019). Agile Deserves The Hype, But It Can Also Fail: How To Avoid The Pitfalls. Forbes. Retrieved from Forbes website: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nigeldavies/2019/07/02/agile-deserves-the-hype-but-it-can-also-fail-how-to-avoid-the-pitfalls/#c9ced757a0cf

How Agile and DevOps enable digital readiness and transformation. (2018). Hampshire, UK: Freeform Dynamics.

The Elusive Agile Enterprise: How the Right Leadership Mindset, Workforce and Culture Can Transform Your Organization. Jersey City, NJ: Forbes Insights and the Scrum Alliance (2018). Retrieved from: https://www.scrumalliance.org/ScrumRedesignDEVSite/media/Forbes-Media/ScrumAlliance_REPORT_FINAL-WEB.pdf

Schwartz, J., Collins, L., Stockton, H., Wagner, D., & Walsh, B. (2017). Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age: 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends. Retrieved from: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/HumanCapital/hc-2017-global-human-capital-trends-gx.pdf