Introduction to Agile from forthcoming Essential Agile book

The enclosed is a summary of the most common mistakes and missed opportunities I see in Agile. I expect others have a different perspective or experience, but I can only write about my own. I hope you find this useful.

Since there are now so many myths about agile its going to be better to start at the beginning.

Agile is not a Project Management Methodology

This is fundamental to understand what Agile is, the benefits it delivers and how to implement it. Agile is fundamentally about moving to a trust relationship with staff and evolving past the industrial revolution practice of overseers for ignorant and unskilled workers. Agile is a way of working focused on the flow of work and who and when they interact with it. The work is all the work that has been shaped by value slicing, economic ordering and is in a backlog. The backlog is a self-service work storage area where work is broken down into chunks of gain to the business.

Agile does not have Projects or Programs

Agile is a methodology to create and start the continuous delivery of work. Agile enables the solving of complex problems by breaking the work down into small chunks of (financial, functional, regulatory or reputational) value and delivering them in a consistent flow. Projects and Project Managers are replaced by a team run self-service backlog. The Scrum Master is an activity and not a role which can be done by any team member to facilitate agile practices and events (like the daily stand up). A key indication of the adoption of agile is less management of all kinds, no program management, no project managers and no team management. These practices are no longer required since there are no programs or projects in agile working. If you still have all of these activities and have adopted agile, then you have a massive cost where there should be none. Agile clears out middle management and redirects these people back into the work as subject matter experts who refine the big chunks of OKRs into smaller chunks for the teams to adopt into their backlogs. They also rework the work that the teams reject as too big, too complex, too many dependencies etc to deliver value in a single sprint.

Agile work is conducted in an Agile (governance, financial, strategic) Construct. Everything Changes.

Work has been structured into Programs and Projects for a number of very good reasons which are fulfilled in agile in a completely different way. As previously stated in my book “a short guide to Agile Transformation” agile really needs adjusted governance to be delivered. Governance, Expenditure and the meeting of Strategic Goals are the reason that Programs and Project exist and still need to be accounted for in the Continuous Delivery way of working that agile represents.

In non-agile ways of working Governance is often oppressive since it is seen as an impediment to getting work done because it sets essential gates to ensure the stability of an organisation. However, in agile these gates are unnecessary since agile working provides a real-time risk status every day through stand-ups and scrum of scrums. Further agile ensures that issues and risks are mitigated or solved immediately only escalating a tiny percentage daily to strategic people within an organisation.

Expenditure is rationalised towards Objectives and Key Results (OKRs); no other management of finances is required since the Service or Product is issued its lifetime or yearly budget to achieve the Key Results the business needs. The whole monitoring culture is discarded since most of it relates to monitoring expenditure for Program and Projects, moving away from micromanagement to self-organising and delivering cultures.

Strategic goals are ensured through Enterprise and per Service or Product OKRs. In turn they are confirmed as delivered through impact to End Customers or other Actors (Regulators, Share Value etc.). Progression is observable at the end of every sprint through open sprint reviews and retrospectives where the teams speak and the observers (invited guests) watch and learn. Each quarter there will be a Showcase or Town Hall showing all that has been accomplished and its direct connection to Customer Experience, Business Strategy delivery, Market Share and in many cases direct Financial impact.

Badly implemented agile creates duality, massive complexity and huge financial waste

The implementation of agile by applying a complex hierarchy and maintaining jobs that are irrelevant is extremely costly and will create the perfect storm for companies to be surpassed by their competitors while thinking they are optimising through agile. The upheavals, cost and loss of trust by staff is massive for little or no gain in fact often the lack of funding post such an activity contracts the organisation. Agile transformation should deliver cost benefits in a constant flow as part of their own sprints.

These implementations go far beyond Fragile agile which tends to be a manipulation at team level to gain a power base. At the whole company level, the bastardisation of agile to support the working practices, organisational structures and roles it is designed to remove is deceptive and dishonest.