The roots of agility, in practice

Six different perspectives on “agile organizations”
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By now, many companies around the world have already gone through some sort of agile transformation, or at least have experimented some degree of agile processes implemented. However, it’s not uncommon to figure out that in many of those scenarios, agility ends up, unfortunately, loosing focus or deviating from its roots, creating organizations that may never really understand what it really means to be an agile organization.

To write about it, I can see an article going through at least two different paths: Product focused organizations or Lean agile organizations. When I say different, it’s because we can approach each topic in very different directions with enough supporting theories for both sides. Therefore, the focus here is going to be on building agile organizations.

Types of Agile Organizations

Since my intention is not to write an article with a collection of buzzwords that have no practical views, I am describing 6 different perspectives that, in my opinion, any organization should be exceptional at, in case they are willing to declare themselves as being “agile organizations”.

  1. Autonomous, self-organizing multidisciplinary teams: organizations that keep disassembling teams after long term projects or keep moving your MVPs (in this case, “most valuable players”) around the organization in the exchange of “efficiencies”, might never be able to build teams that can learn how to self-organize without having to always lean on a “hero leader” profile to “come save them”.

    Self-organizing teams, that know how to work together, leveraging their variety of skills to make decisions, will ultimately become drivers in the organization. These teams are more innovative and tend to have the ability of solving their complexities, such as their dependencies and their risk management. Those aspects are common in organizations that look for “silver bullet” solutions.

    Frameworks and methods may help, but it is always about building a culture where teams can learn and figure out solutions together.

  2. Servant leadership: leaders that foment a “fail fast culture” are the ones who ensure people feel safe to make mistakes and find support to learn from it. Modern leaders are the ones that, instead of asking teams to “just do it” are now asking “what can I do to help you do it”. Such attitude requires a huge mindset shift. Additionally, the culture of fear is no longer applicable to modern leadership, simply because people no longer accept micromanaging, the various forms of harassment and related things like in the past. People will simply leave if they feel there is no psychological safety in the environment. Finally, leaders should be prepared to foster autonomy, coaching teams on their ability to make decisions on their own but at the same time, to understand the consequences of it – positive or negative – and of course, being right at their side, for whatever support is needed.

  3. Product & Business Performance: teams can only understand value if they understand what impact they have on the performance of the product/service supported by them, as well as the impact of the solution to the overall business performance. In other words, what are the metrics that can be built and brought to the teams so that they can use it as a measure of success. Specially for companies going through digital transformation, such metrics are the most critical aspect of the decision-making process – from leadership to teams. There is no point on building digital solutions and being blind about its impact on the business.

  4. Iteratively plan, deliver and obtain feedback: one-month sprints, key business stakeholders working away from the development teams, lack of technical ability to make solutions available several times in a sprint, are all indicators that you are not there yet. Lean agile organizations should be able to take advantage of short feedback cycles in order to learn about their solutions in a pace that allows the teams to fail fast, what in other words also means, learning what is the right thing to be done next, as fast as possible.

  5. People and purpose: this one is simple – too much focus on deliveries will limit your focus on people. However, the more an organization invest on their talents, managing careers that make sense to the individuals, the more talents will stay just because they feel like they are being supported. Additionally, organizations that have enough transparency to share the company goals and strategy, tend to have more people inspired to achieve it as they feel like they are part of it.

  6. Continuous improvement: the very well-known concept coming from Toyota culture is no longer optional. Simply, teams and organizations that don’t make time to observe what they are doing and invest time to improve it, are faded to fail. The best learning organizations are the ones that never operate in the same way for too long and foster learnings from every single thing they do. This plays a very intimate relationship with adaptability. If people suffer and struggle with change, organizations cannot adapt to new scenarios, learn from mistakes and reinvent themselves, sometimes, to survive.
This is an opinion article and doesn't necessarily reflect the Volkswagen Group view.