Many teams today – be they in software development or project management – are already employing agile methods in their work. Although these methods can help show the way forward, true agility is about more than just hosting scrums and following lean principles and the like. The fundamental idea behind any agile approach is always to turn uncertainty into the guiding principle so as to remain flexible and competitive in today’s VUCA world.
True agility – a revolution?
More often than not, however, agile initiatives are reduced to nothing more than paying lip service to the real thing. That’s the case whenever “agile” teams, constrained by rigid scrum concepts, simply carry on working as before – only now in two-week sprints and under the watchful eyes of a project manager whose designation has changed to “product owner”.
But why is it so difficult to make the switch to true agility? Why doesn’t implementing an agile method necessarily ensure agile teamwork? Does agility ultimately also amount to a revolution and the fall of existing corporate structures?
What does agility mean?
Agility means creating value
Above all, agility means continuously creating value for your customers. That’s not to say you necessarily need to blindly bow down to the desires of individual customers, but it is vital to always keep track of the big picture. In times of VUCA, the best way of achieving this is to experiment, try out new things and validate fully developed ideas under real-life conditions at the customer’s premises.
It’s not always possible to fully predict the risks involved, however, because decisions are taken quickly and changes of direction are made on the spot. To avoid this having drastic implications, agile teams always conduct experiments and progressively validate ideas, repeatedly performing small iterations in an ongoing process.
The team – the heart of agility
Since they are the ones who implement, validate and fine-tune ideas, the team members are also best placed to understand which decisions have led to which results. To be able to respond to changes immediately, the team therefore also has to make every decision itself. Any external influence would give rise to additional decision cycles and any control mechanisms would mean the team could not respond as quickly to developments. Farewell, lovely new agility!
Agility can therefore primarily be achieved by teams
- That make decisions autonomously,
- That bear responsibility for their own decisions,
- That find solutions to problems independently, and
- That collaborate closely both within the team and with the customer.
Upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that agility means nothing more than a group of people working together to independently solve a shared problem. In other words, agility works from the bottom up and thus in pretty much the opposite way to the traditional, top-down world of management.