The required agility of an organisation

It is tempting to transfer successes in applying agile software development methods in small teams to an overall organisation. The buzzword is Scaling Agile. SAFe in particular is booming – a framework for scaling agility in an organisation. Accordingly, the number of training courses and experts is increasing steadily.

The market for scaling agility still appears to be dynamic and not saturated. But there are already providers of certification programs and frameworks like SAFe or LeSS at this early stage.

Agile experts like to talk about the new normal. There seems to be common sense that scaled agility provides a good answer to an increasing complexity that many organisations face today. But what scaling agility is all about, experts don’t seem to agree on yet.

Inspired by an article on agility by Benjamin P. Taylor, University of Oxford, published on LinkedIn, four types of experts can be distinguished:

  1. The Agile Behaviorist.
    He says everything is just a matter of designing necessary structures. In his belief, there is only one structure of agility on a large scale that fits all organisations.
  2. The Agile Paradogmatist.
    He is convinced the measure of quality of a transformation can be reduced to the unconditional fulfilment of the agile dogma. The inescapable truth of the paradigm shift must be acknowledged and accepted once and for all.
  3. The Agile Trend-Junkie.
    He demonises everything old and inappropriate and puts it down just because it is not new and modern. Agile Labs, trips to the Californian Silicon Valley and other hip agile references provide the desired orientation here.
  4. The Agile Housemaster.
    For him, everything is just a question of Agile Mindset: the agility of an entire organisation depends exclusively on the interaction of agile cultural patterns of individuals. Scaled agility can easily become a purpose in itself here, serving a new morality.

But rather than opting for one expert’s mantra now, agility on a large scale can also be understood as the evolution of collaboration that comes with increasing complexity in product innovation. Thus, if agility is understood as the result of an evolution pressure, then an organiation evolves toward agility to the extent and at the speed required by its own business model.

Of course, as described above, the right structures, methods, practical relevance and mindset are just as important here. However, this is from a different perspective than that provided by the four types of agile experts described above: the focus is not on the mantra of experts, but on the need for their own agility.

  1. What exactly should we become agile for?
    Here, the Agile Behaviorist’s one-fits-all approach gives way to the approach of developing required structures of scaled agility for an organization’s specific context and needs.
  2. What does agile mean to us?
    The dogmatic agile approach of the Agile Paradogmatist gives way here to the approach of reflective and participatory team mobilisation based on a shared understanding.
  3. How do we make the transition to scaled agile ways of working?
    An Agile trend-junkie‘s denouncing-the-old approach gives way here to the learning organisation and exploratory iteration approach.
  4. How do we create an optimal environment for a coaching leadership culture?
    Here, the blaming mindset problem approach of the Agile Housemaster gives way to the enabling and empowering approach across different levels of the organisation.

A joint discussion of these issues of scaled agile collaboration by all employees involved is critical to success. From our experience, experts can even have a counterproductive effect if they engage the employees involved to such an extent that, in the worst case, they have an inhibiting effect on them. Agility can literally be understood better by asking the right questions than it can be understood by the teachings of an expert.

If you are already familiar with agile working, you may have already experienced benefits at the team level. Scaling these benefits with kyona methods and extended toolset, we guide you to a collaborative, digital and agile business structure and culture.