One frustrated and frightened change-team leader attempting to use Agile and other change methods to create Business Agility recently said to me, “I feel like Victor Frankenstein. I think we’ve created something awful, combing all of these different tools; it’s not what we intended. We’re now being confronted by the monster and I fear our business isn’t going to survive.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard this story – organisations struggling to create Business Agility using Agile methods on top of embedded legacy concepts designed to solve yesterday’s problems that no longer exist. This led me to wonder, “Are Business Agility and Agile taking the same path that Lean did?”
We are now beginning to see emergent failures from large-scale Agile (under the name of Business Agility) implementations, because simplistic hybrid change models, approaches and applications have destabilised businesses. This is bringing Agile into disrepute and the reason I fear the trajectory of it is mirroring that of the Lean movement. It is a situation where good, sound methods are being mishandled and misapplied and married with the most unlikely method partners to attract people from completely different disciplines.
Bad Hybrid Models
Bad hybrid models almost always create bad conceptual frameworks and lead to an increase in the complexity of change programs. The fundamental reason is these methods do not consider or even understand the needs of businesses at a basic level. It is simply assumed because it worked elsewhere and that everyone is doing it must be good for us. The problem is exacerbated and obscured because of small successes in test teams and the presumption the same results will be achieved at-scale. This is simply fantasy.
Back to the problem -- the Lean movement, which Agile seems to be replicating: A prime example of a bad hybrid model in Lean was the integration of Lean and Six Sigma tools, creating Lean Sigma or LSS. This was worst of all possible worlds, a monster of sorts. Lean, as I like to say, became LINO – Lean in Name Only. It became everything to everyone and in the end meant nothing at all, which appears to be where Agile and Business Agility are headed.
Scaled Agile or SAFe® attempts to combine Agile, Lean and DevOps. These methods are not designed to work in tandem and are being bundled together under the Agile banner. The term Agile is being stretched around every imaginable change method and combination thereof. Many large organisations, however, still want the outcomes promised by elasticated forms of Agile on the condition that the consultants do not call it Agile, because after several failed attempts, it is becoming a dirty word.
Where does all the money go?
In a few words, it goes to the purveyors of the tools. Agile, Business Agility and the Lean movements can be likened to a gold rush. The only people who make money in a gold rush are those supplying the mining goods and equipment. They get rich while the diggers toil away hoping that with the next strike of a pickaxe they get rich. The supplier of these incongruent tools and methods are striking it rich off the backs of the managers and staff trusting the hype. This needs to change; the whole business needs to benefit.
Hitting the Re-set Button
Combining Agile with weaker methods, which are used for very different purposes, creates conflict due to different philosophical approaches to the design, the operation of work and people values.
What happens when these hybrid monsters fail to deliver when progress is not made? Often the blame is placed on senior and middle managers because they just don’t get it. The place to start is to avoid the blame game. Instead, the Agile movement needs to put its own house in order and learn how business works and stop making the business culpable for not having the right skills and mind-set. Too many change teams using Agile tools adopt a dogmatic approach, and ultimately everyone loses out.
On the other hand, those organisations hoping to have Business Agility need to be very clear – Agile tools do not equal Business Agility. Understanding this is crucial or else there will be a failure to learn across the board and up and down the hierarchy. Successful Lean, Agile and Business Agility depend on creating a new and trusting relationship between staff and managers.
The Way Forward
Where are Agile and Business Agility headed? And, if they are in fact on a slippery slope, what is to be done? Please share your thoughts. Email me or get in touch via LinkedIn.