“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” – Stephen Hawking

Dear all,

For about ten years now, we have been advising product- and innovation organizations on pragmatic strategies and agile working models.

In developing these models with the teams, we quickly learned that using any one framework „out of the box,“ be that Scrum, Kanban, or – even worse – scaling models like, e.g., SAFe – and trying to structure and educate the organization to match the framework’s underlying assumptions and requirements, does not work.

We also found many of the supposed characteristics of Agile, such as, e.g. the necessity to embrace failure, … are less critical than Agile lore would want to make us believe. If emphasized, they often turn counter-productive by antagonizing the powers that be, preventing agility from taking hold.

Let us also remind ourselves here that Agile is not about implementing a delivery process but managing an organization in such a way that it delivers maximum value while minimizing risk for customers and other stakeholders as an outcome of any given increment.

Reflecting on this over a current project to improve the agility of a largely hardware-bound innovation project in an industrial corporation, I asked myself which factors were genuinely vital to Agile success.

I ended up with one fundamental enabling principle and five critical factors.

The Deming Cycle. Or – simpler – inspect and adapt. True agility is a scientific endeavor based on observations and experimentation. Agile is not viable without the continuous application of this critical scientific principle to both the pursuit of intended outcomes and the constant improvement of the organization’s agile working model.

  1. Intent and clarity. A customer-focused vision and clarity concerning the product/project goals are fundamental to impart focus and avoid wasteful activities. 
  2. Leadership. Agile requires leadership (not to be confused with management!) on every level to provide, adapt, and continuously communicate vision and goals for the individual team and the situation at hand. At the same time, leadership needs to furnish resources and safety for organizations to be able to perform.
  3. Small and dedicated teams. Small teams speed up decision-making by reducing the number of communication pathways. They typically also contribute to the psychological safety associated with high-performing teams. Dedication ensures focus which, as a result, improves outcomes.
  4. Structure. This principle holds both for organizations as well as technology. Well-defined purposes of and interfaces between teams on the organization’s side or building blocks on the part of technology provide a basis for the aligned autonomy that enables rapid iteration towards goals.
  5. Discipline. Starting point and desired outcomes of iterations must be agreed upon and adhered to for developing products and organizations that yield measurable progress. That entails being clear on vision and goals, having definitions of ready and done, and documenting working models and improvement backlogs.

So much for my point of view. There are many perspectives on this, from Scrum.org to scientific research papers.

Here are three that I found inspiring:

Explaining Agile

Short of his book „The Age of Agile“ the best description of Steve Denning’s three laws of Agile.

Click to view!

5 Critical Success Factors for Agile Transformations

The gist of a discussion between real-world practitioners distilled by Frank Oelschlager.
Click to view!

10 Ten Key Factors for Agile Project Success

By the author of „Scrum for Dummies,“ Mark C. Layton. Despite the context, all but for dummies.

Click to view!

What do you believe is key to Agile success? I would be glad to hear from you!
Have a great summer weekend,