Agile here, agile there, agile everywhere. Some call it a buzzword, while others are living and breathing agile culture since it comes so natural to them. So, is agile just a buzzword or something more? It can be a buzzword, but the buzz around it has a reason – it works and it is very real in today’s VUCA world.

Fear of agile

We face a lot of fear while talking about agile to management, HR or other people in leadership positions. It is understandable – the responsibility they carry is already very high and now we want them to completely change the way they work. Are we trying to tell them that they are not good enough? Of course not – agile is looking for a win-win situation for both team members and leaders and it improves results greatly. The global environment has mostly already recognized the value of agility and we’ve got proof.

The story of fear of losing what we already know and have

The fear behind adopting agile methodologies is not simply the change itself. Also, for many managers, Agility still sounds very new and exotic. It seems like those leaders fear the unknown since the unknown means de-attaching from current practices and adopting something new. Something new means to change and leaders are skeptical whether this change will produce good results. But in reality, leaders fear to lose what they already know and have – in terms of good results or battle-proven tactics.

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Example from our experience – manager Ian

Here is one interesting and true story (name changed): Ian is a recognized manager at his best age. He leads a successful company with over 1300 employees. After reading about agile and acquiring some agile awareness he decided to dig deeper and invite us to an introductory meeting. In one of his first sentences, he explained: “You know, this agile approach… we would really like to take it slow, maybe with one small team first, to see the effects. For sure, we would not like to make a hierarchy revolution or introduce disorder or chaos into managers and teams. Can you go really basic agile with us?”

Despite hearing all the best from articles or books regarding Agility, managers like Ian seem to be skeptical due to common fears and prejudice regarding agile.

Common fears and prejudice regarding agile

Based on the latest research, published in agile times, 7 most common reasons – why some leaders fear the effects of adopting agile methodologies, are:

  • Focus on customers over shareholders
  • Perceived Loss of control
  • Perceived loss of authoritative rank and power
  • Focus on delivering immediate customer value over immediate revenue
  • Too much learning and too much change
  • Customer value is cumulative while overall benefits only come if done properly in the long run
  • Increased level of transparency perceived as very risky

Many of the above-written statements go against traditional leadership behavior, an MBA approach or bring a certain amount of perceived hassle when implementing or sustaining agile methodologies. The important steps for leaders of truly embracing agile seem to be: de-attaching from current beliefs, absorbing new knowledge with child-like curiosity and embracing change. The results will follow, thus expect a transition period.

Benefits of developing an agile culture

Companies that develop agile company culture and use agile methodologies:

  • Are 200 % – 400 % more efficient in their work
  • Experience 15 % increase in acquisition of new customers
  • Witness 20 % boost in employee engagement
  • Experience 60 % faster time to market
  • Experience 59 % faster innovation
  • 55 % see improved financial results

*sources: HBR, McKinsey, Forbes, Scrum Alliance

Executives see agile as the most important skill of their employees

Based on IBM 2018 Global business value survey, willingness to be flexible, agile and adaptable to change is recognized as the most important skill among the workforce. This matches well with the Scrum Alliance & Forbes survey that found out that 81 % of executives consider organizational agility as the most important characteristic of a successful organization.

Make people awesome

It has become apparent that making employees awesome is an effect that agile brings to an organization. Nurturing an innovative, transparent and safe culture, where empathy, trust and support are some of the main pillars of the desired behaviour have a proven effect on the products and services of the company and produce happier customers. Efficient and self-organized teams without micro-management do not mean disorder or lack of leadership, just the opposite.
At the end of the meeting has Ian, the manager of 1300 people, signed the Agile adoption plan for the company with the following words:

“… now I see that agile is common sense. It brings out all the good in people and prosperity for the organization. In a way, we just forgot about that.”

So, let’s make the people awesome again!

Just doing agile is not the same as Being Agile

Doing agile means using agile methodologies, such as Scrum, Design Thinking, Design Sprint. But ‘… being agile means embracing an agile Mindset. Being agile means realizing the full potential of doing agile through Agile Culture, Values and Principles. Without committing to a full transformation, you risk becoming fragile instead of agile (LIVESciences AG, 2019)’.

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