Why Agile is needed now more than ever?
By Evija Geka
Published October 12, 2019
Global organizations are describing the pace of change as mounting in a way that what we have today will become cloudy tomorrow with a high chance of obsolescence. A question arising in my mind is: How can we embrace the change that we cannot predict?
We no longer live in "fast-changing world" but rather VUCA world – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous business environment, and in China, it manifests itself even to a greater extent. Unpredictable events whether positive or negative but either present complexity for leaders to make decisions. There is another addend in the VUCA equation – your internal VUCA! There is plenty of ambiguity and volatility within walls of one organization which leads to hyper-VUCA condition…..a mess, indeed. The good news is that complexity can be saddled and turned into a positive one as they are governed by the same fundamental principle. The bad news is that not many organizations are ready to operate in this rampant unpredictable wind. We are leading in in a place where not only we do not know the answers, we are also not sure if we are asking the right questions.
Nevertheless, the greatest challenge is not to manage change or technology, but people. They want to feel valued, they want to know that they are making a contribution. In my experience, execution teams shift their primary question from "what are we doing?" to "why are we doing it?". People seek purpose in their lives like never before. Job seekers search for employment in companies that enshrine values and ethics in their operational model, not just profit. The work we do becomes an extension of ourselves and therefore values we hold do not stop or start after 5 p.m., they are part of ourselves. Meanwhile, companies rely on monetary and extrinsic incentives like bonuses, perks and free cookies which are tasty and compelling especially when hot, however, science suggests that intrinsic motivators are much stronger. Those are AUTONOMY, MASTERY and PURPOSE.
For 21st century businesses, both of these factors if not engaged can result in huge losses of resources, a pile of resignations and hours of time wasted. If companies want to be efficient, they need to employ Agile as it addresses all of these factors. Agile methods have revolutionized project management and spread across a broad range of industries and functions. Over the past 25 years it has considerably improved quality and accelerated speed to market, enhanced ability to manage changing priorities, reduced waste of resources, increased productivity and improved visibility. Agile makes a shift from hierarchy to self-organization. Therefore, decisions are made by people who do the actual work. That becomes possible when managers cease to keep information in their pockets and first-hand information from users and stakeholders is available for teams. Therefore, communication becomes frictionless and that makes a significant difference because, in VUCA, speed and ability to serve the actual needs matter more than impeccability.
Agile teams are cross-functional meaning that individuals are diverse in their skillset and even personalities. In fact, a pinch of science: there is a strong correlation between heterogeneous teams and their effectiveness. Similarly, task-related diversity is found positively correlated to the team’s performance, and that is also accosted by cross-functionality as that allows mutual learning of different skill-set. In Agile, interactions and individuals are in high value, the relationships within a team matter because in order to perform on a greater level team needs to have strong relationships with each of the teammates. I will go even further as an evangelist of Agile and say that Agile coaches care not only for performance but also for each teammate’s well-being.
Teams are given the ground for reaching personal mastery, they are given autonomy to work the way they want to work, and purpose is transparent to everyone. Agile provides a safe environment to give open feedback and share opinions which are done in Retrospective session. And no surprise, in my experience and many other Agile coaches, teams do feel more motivated in Agile organizations. They feel better because we care, and we want them to grow as individuals and teams! There is a very true saying in coaching: A friend loves you just the way you are. A coach loves you too much to let you stay that way.
Agile is far more than an alternative to traditional project management. It is undoubtedly strong for that, but it is also the weakest expression of it. Agile focuses on prioritization enabling to reach a high standard of excellence and reach personal fulfillment, however - only when done well. This also implies that organizations and teams need coaches to provide with the necessary training, teaching and mentoring in order to make Agile alive for them!