Is My Organization Agile?

Agile has had significant adoption across many organizations; it may be that we have reached the point where Agile is now an innovation for late majority adopters1.  There are many organizations who have already adopted Agile, from whom we can learn about what they did, and also still a large number of organizations who have not yet attempted to adopt Agile.  For organizations who are considering the adoption of Lean-Agile mindset and practices, one question they may consider is: where do they start2 – what do they need to do to be Agile?  Along with that question – hopefully recognizing that what they want is to ‘be Agile’; not just to ‘do Agile’ – organizations also may find themselves asking how they will know when they are Agile – what will being Agile look like?

As an Agile Coach and Trainer, I have been able to work alongside many organizations and teams who are starting and continuing to become Agile.  In cases where that start and continuation is producing positive results, part of their reckoning is that there may not exist for them a finality that they “are Agile”.  In fact, focusing on the goal that they can declare that they “are Agile” at some point is often a Siren’s Song foretelling an impending crash of their efforts upon the rocks of what was keeping them from ‘being Agile’ in the first place.

How will we know we are on our Agile journey?

Rather than asking ‘how will we know when we are Agile’, organizations who have decided to start to become Agile are better served to ask ‘how will we know that we are on our Agile journey?’  What will their Agile journey look like?  Similar to other journeys, their Agile journey will include a starting point, a destination (or at least some notion of a direction and waypoints), and their pace for relentlessly moving from the former to the latter.  An important part of an Agile journey is capturing a picture of where an organization was before starting their journey – a reference for future planning and celebration – including a sense for what about their starting point may have been keeping them from ‘being Agile’ already.  An experienced Agile Coach can be a valuable resource to help gather information about their starting point – someone knowledgeable and unbiased to help capture that picture.

What is the destination for an organization’s Agile journey?

Is their destination simply an improvement in everything in their starting point picture?  These questions are among the most difficult because the answers are different for every organization.  Yes, improving (some, which?) aspects of their starting point – relentlessly improving with incremental and iterative steps, because an Agile journey is much like other long journeys3 – is part of their Agile journey.  An Agile Coach can help to identify those improvements and incremental steps.  Things that can improve the chances of success for these steps is identifying waypoints and celebrating their accomplishment.  When I go out for a bike ride, and I have a route I’m going to follow, I need to know where I have to turn.  In addition, I want to be able to celebrate getting from one waypoint to another better than I had done before.  The same is true for an organization’s Agile journey – keep waypoints visible, encourage an understanding by all team members of how one waypoint leads to the next, and celebrate the hard work and improved organizational outcomes that result from reaching each waypoint.

This view of waypoints necessitates an appreciation for the pace of the journey.  In order for the organization to be successful in their Agile journey – to keep from crashing on the rocks of where they started – the pace they adopt needs to be sustainable.  Their pace needs to relentlessly make improvements so feelings of complacency are avoided, but the pace also needs to take into account that the organization’s culture cannot change overnight (nor can people, processes, technology, etc.).  Striking a balance between a too-slow pace that is perceived as ineffective and a too-fast pace that is seen as out of sync with culture and organizational realities is another area where an experience Agile Coach can help.

How can a coach help?

Engaging with an Agile Coach can help an organization answer their questions about ‘when will they be Agile?’  A coach can help with the picture of where they are starting from in terms of Lean-Agile mindset, practice and outcomes.  They can also help with areas to prioritize for improvement in that picture, steps to take for those improvements, and outcomes that the organization could hope to improve when incrementally taking those steps – what could their own, unique Agile journey look like as they relentlessly improve?

About the author: Outside of his career as a software engineer, software director and agile coach, Brad Sherman has found himself riding his bike again during these times of social distancing.  Long ago – during his early college years – he and some friends rode their bikes down the Pacific coast from Oregon to Southern California, along with rides across the continental divide.