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Agile: Myths and Reality

Make no mistake: it’s much more than a software development methodology

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Businesses across all industries are becoming more agile—faster to see and pursue opportunities, willing to fail and learn fast, and increasingly responsive to customer needs—except when they aren’t! In a 2017 survey by Gatepoint Research, 70% of predominantly senior decision makers indicated they know that agile organizations can respond rapidly and effectively to dynamic business conditions, but fewer than half said their organizations were using agile methodologies to develop products. There’s a disconnect there, to say the least.

There are many myths surrounding agile, and they can easily hamper progress. “As with many concepts and approaches, misconceptions and myths are often times communicated and shared amongst new and even seasoned practitioners,” the California Department of Technology (CDT) observed in its Understanding Agile handbook. “Myths can be misleading when trying to understand what work might be involved and what situations are most appropriate for leveraging an agile approach.”

Topping the CDT’s list of the top myths: agile doesn’t mean no planning; doesn’t mean no governance; and doesn’t mean no documentation, although its requirements are certainly less onerous than traditional methodologies.

Required: A shift in thinking

Agile reflects more than software development methodology—it represents a shift in thinking and a change in culture, and it requires buy-in throughout an organization, not least the senior management that sets the tone.

“Agile development cannot be a priority solely for the technology organization,” a team of McKinsey analysts advises in A business leader’s guide to agile. “Senior business executives must include it on their agendas as well, thereby signaling the importance of making the required technology and cultural changes.”

The agile mindset is an essential element if you have any hopes of transforming your business to stay abreast or ahead of digital business trends. In a more traditional organization, employees may have to fight their way through structural and hierarchical barriers if they are to communicate, plan, and execute anything outside of established processes.

What can go wrong

Agile development is elegantly simple and many agile fundamentals  are spreading from engineering to marketing, sales, and finance teams, transformational consultants Sol Sender and Ben Edwards write in a Quartz at Work article. But, they caution, “much can and does go wrong at every level of the organization, from the individual team member all the way up to the CEO. Which is why most companies, despite their intentions to adopt agile methods, often end up working in a way that doesn’t look much like true agile at all.”

Organizational transformation

Top executives have to be willing to cut through cultural barriers and unbind their teams from restraints that deter them from new achievements. They must accept that a successful transformation is a journey that may not always run smoothly. And they need to view themselves as coaches, not just bosses, willing to:

  • Seek guidance and input from teams.
  • Model correct behaviors and make a personal commitment to their teams.
  • Recognize the personal commitment they’re asking of their employees.
  • Commit to measuring success differently.
  • Celebrate setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Business agility is a company’s way to sense and respond to change proactively and with confidence to deliver business value—faster than the competition—and as a matter of everyday business. It’s a new way of working and thinking that requires a new mindset. Not only for one department, but for everyone within a company—from development teams to the C-suite. When done correctly, it will change the way business thrives in this century and beyond.

Learn more.

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