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Agile, Really?

Agile has two meanings; both are precisely alike and very different in reality. As the creators of the Agile Manifesto would call it, its new way of work was introduced for software development projects but is now adopted everywhere, including back-office functions. Agile is also a common English word that describes "the power of moving quickly; nimbleness; briskness; activity, either of the body or mind."

But guess what?

Organizations like to use it willy nilly to describe their teams as Agile. Maybe they want to take advantage of the confusion to avoid dealing with the truth about their work culture. Avoiding a conversation on changes that ought to happen but are just difficult to do, which include:

  • Improving team autonomy and being less "micro" managing.

  • Engaging customers continuously

  • Being experimental with ideas

  • Admitting that something failed and nine out of ten generally do

Let's look at some of the challenges;


You are empowered, but...

Agile teams are empowered to make decisions; decisions that impact the bottom line and not decisions on seating arrangement; decisions made autonomously and not only those that echo their bosses. Unfortunately, this is difficult because of a vicious cycle of distrust.

Customer Dis-engagement

I heard you, but I know better...

Top Employee: I'm excited about this idea, and my boss is, my boss's boss is, so its a go

Observing Platypus: but wait, did you ask the customer if they liked it?

Top Employee: No, not on this idea, but we did engage them sometime back in a focus group, and they generally wanted me, my boss, and my boss's boss.

Observing Catfish: So you will check with them again soon on this idea?

Top Employee: Yeah, after we secure the approvals, resources, funding and complete the development work

Both Observers in unison: [slap forehead]

No-risk tolerance

the "you can try" lip service

I have written something before about experiments, MVP (minimum viable product), and Agile. Common sense would prevail that the only way you can improve is by trying to improve. Experiment, learn from it, try again. Unfortunately, most don’t do enough of the learning bit because for that to happen, you have to accept that the idea that made you look like a genius didn’t work.

Top Employee: let's not tell them it failed. we persevere with "grit."

In Conclusion

Every organization is keen to improve the bottom line and be better for their employees, but becoming Agile will only make sense by tackling the cultural challenges early on. Well known techniques like active delegation of authority for empowerment, keeping the customer first and always engaged, measuring departments on learnings from failures will work. But, as with any cultural change initiative, you will have to be patient to see the results. You are changing the mindsets of seasoned employees.

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