Why Agile goes awry?
Updated: Feb 4
I embrace the idea of using many integrated approaches how is possible. And history provides us with many lessons to apply in the present and future.
Your company is not Agile until it proves it with results.
Applying multidisciplinary methodologies (moving from principle to practice) can give us a better perspective when we speak about enhancing our activities and making strategic decisions within the organization.
The Agile concept has only been around for 30-plus years, and it was initially conceived for technology development (1) with various successes and failures stories. Then is understandable and takes time to adopt agile principles in the other areas of the organization.
A formal definition of Agile is worth mentioning: "It is a set of principles and values emphasizing collaboration, adaptability to change, and self-organizing teams. It is a recognition that the same principles will not apply to every situation, and an ability to respond agilely to both uncertainty and change".
Many companies have declared "We are Agile" without stating the measurement that permits notice of the improvement; in addition, devoted followers of this buzzword have assumed it as a methodology.
Let's compare other well knows scientific and statistical methodologies, such as LEAN, Six Sigma, or Total Quality Management (with the benefit of more than 100 years of scientific study and a successful “continuous improvement” mindset).
Pioneered by Toyota, the Lean methodology aims to reduce non-value-added activities and cycle times while creating value for customers. Six Sigma focuses on identifying and reducing variability and improving overall quality.
By the end of 2006, Six Sigma was being practiced by 53% of Fortune 500 companies (82 percent of Fortune 100 companies), saving them an estimated $427 billion. (2)
Based on this information, Agile is not a methodology or not pretending to be, but rather processes that can be repeated according to the circumstance. They are principles (The Agil Manifesto) based on empiricism and heuristic techniques with respect for people and thriving on the self-organizing capabilities of people to deal with new challenges.
Then, why is it so popular?
Since it does not require applying mathematical or statistical concepts, it is easier to adapt, and for me, that is its great weakness.
“We need to remember that companies base their business on high degrees of predictability, financial mathematics, and statistical evaluations for estimating and carrying out their business, which gives some consistency and security when managing the business.”
Additionally, exist an exacerbated monetization of agile education and consulting. Many groups, far as calling the organizations behind this monetization (See The Agile Industrial Complex). As a result, pseudo-cult agile exists, believing in doing and saying the right things, but they don't understand the fundamental principles.
Today, for a low price, we can easily get a certificate in Agile (like Scrum Master). Believing that Agile can substitute PMBoK is a utopia, considering the time, expertise, and topics the Project Management Knowledge areas cover, such as Cost, Quality, Communication, Risk, or Procurement, to name a few.
Martin Fowler commented, “... imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods...” (3)
Is Agile enough to apply in all areas of the organization?
Peter Drucker quote: “If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.” And here is the key to understanding why Agile could be more efficient.
We must clarify that one of the organizations' objectives is profit earning and maximizing revenue by selling products or services. And commonly, they are focused on two activities:
Marketing campaigns, releasing new products, assets, market expansion, innovations, etc.
Improve their intern operations, such as enhancing the process, reducing the variability, brin top-notch technologies, automation, etc.
First, companies like Google, Spotify, Microsoft, PlayStation Network, 3M, and others have incorporated some Agile principles into various “innovation” activities beyond software products. Significantly because Agile has proven to be efficient in many aspects: team productivity (minimizing the waste inherent in redundant meetings, repetitive planning, and excessive documentation), low-cost product features, boosts customer engagement and satisfaction, faster time-to-market, flexible priorities, and project visibility & transparency.
Second, we can discuss how Agile can make improvements; indeed, it could, but can Agile determine the value of the actual process, % defective, variability, performance, and traceability? And the quick answer is "NO"!
In the “improvement process,” you must measure the process, understand how it works, and later determine the possible process improvements and how to carry out its control.
What would be an excellent approach to incorporate Agile in our activities?
Here are some examples:
Adapting or expanding agile practices or changing an organization's culture and leadership styles take time. I suggest incorporating some agile principles that fit your activities; it is a good start.
Use Agile in some areas that are more "vibrant," like I&D, marketing solutions or software manufacturing, etc. Remember, Agile can be an excellent complement tool.
Agile implies 'Leadership" and needs to apply correctly. Because you don't need to know “only” about Agile, you also must know and have engineering knowledge for project management, decision-making, negotiation, critical thinking, and relationship building.
General managers at least need to know the foundational understanding because a successful adoption depends on them; otherwise, it can sabotage the Agile team's priorities, focus, and motivations.
Open your mind to combining multiple methodologies and techniques according to the needs that arise.
Considering the premise, “it needs to be fixed if you're not getting the results,” companies are more aware of the advantages and disadvantages of using Agile in their process.
Regardless of your business' growth goals, each company must have key performance indicators (KPIs), business predictability, and a high rate of performance that tools or methodologies require to provide.
Agile Enables You to Do the Wrong Thing Faster – When priorities are not clear or correct, agile teams may simply deliver more of the wrong thing faster. This is sometimes called the feature factory, where teams push out more items that don't add value or are not a priority. (4)
(1) The Agile manifesto, 2001
(2) Michael Marx, Six Sigma Saves a Fortune, iSixSigma Magazine, 2007
(3) Martin Fowler, The Agile Imposition, 2006
(4) Melissa Perri, Avoiding the Build Trap, 2018
(5) Forbes, The end of Agile, 2019
(6) Forbes, Lean Six Sigma an effective sales tool for business growth, 2022