The same mantras are repeated in businesses across the globe: we must do more with less; we must go faster. But what if I told you there was a way to work smarter, instead of harder. Would you be open to making this change?
There is a smarter product development framework, and many organizations have already discovered it. However, for the large number of companies who have implemented this framework, there are few who actually do it well. In our knowledge economy, this is the difference between those that survive, and those that succumb to some emerging startup with the raw skills and innovation to capture their share of the market. Or all of the market, for that matter. Look out auto America, I’d like to introduce you to the Toyota Production System. Move over Alta Vista, here comes Google. Get out of the way Microsoft, make room for Apple.
For the first time in history, economies of scale are actually working against corporations as they struggle to adapt fast enough to the ever-increasing rate of change that occurs in our modern society. The rate of technological discovery increases at an exponential—rather than linear—rate. (Kurzweil, 2005). The larger the organization—the more structure it has, the longer the chain of command, the added red tape—the more difficult it will be to quickly adapt to emerging market conditions. In an economy based on knowledge work, innovation becomes the currency of the day, and those organizations with obstructive change management processes and economies of scale will be left wondering how David got the best of Goliath. The answer is simple: David moved faster. The question then becomes: how can we, too, move faster? How do we prevent our size and rigidity from becoming our death nail?
The answer is distributed processing, by which I mean empowerment throughout the lowest levels of the organization. If there’s anything a well-educated and highly-skilled employee knows, it’s their job. Stop telling them how to do it, and start focusing instead on what. Let your customers decide your product features, by gathering incremental feedback throughout the development cycle, and leveraging adaptive planning techniques to create a product that truly meets their needs. Even if those needs should change or evolve over time.
Unfortunately, implementing a few practices will not be enough to transform your organization. To ensure success and sustain the change, you must achieve a principle-based implementation. If you focus solely on practices, the disconnect will show through, and your organization will be in a state of friction. After all, no one respects a hypocrite. The goal isn’t about doing agile, it’s about becoming agile. This is the difference between agile in name only and agile done well. If your organization focuses only on practices, then they will come to represent the former. Meanwhile, if they focus instead on principles that align to those practices, they will achieve the latter. It’s as simple as that. Which of these two organizations do you reside in? If it’s the former, in what ways can you influence it? Which shadow do you cast?
You may be wondering: in what ways does agile differ from the traditional, phase-based and sequential approach of waterfall? Why would an organization want to use adaptive planning techniques rather than predictive ones?
The truth is -- if the work you're doing is simple and can be planned with total accuracy up front -- then you wouldn't need agile. However, most of the work we do is complex, and increasingly so. If what we did were easy, everyone would be doing it, and there would be no competitive advantage. Instead, we are inundated with statistics of high-cost waterfall projects that -- even if they are on time and on budget -- still fail to deliver the promised value back to the organization. Scope is planned in advance, obstructive and costly change processes are put in place, and in the end something is delivered that may have been needed when it was requested, but is no longer relevant based on current market conditions and business realities.
Agile frameworks provide a toolset to help manage change, and deal with ambiguity. It makes transparent and explicit the things that other methodologies only imply:
Reasons for adopting agile: