Award-winning speaker, author and culture change facilitator
Share this content

Organisational development: why being agile requires a different mindset

The failure of agile projects in organisations has less to do with the concept itself and more to do with the people involved and their misunderstanding of what it takes to be truly agile. 

21st Nov 2019
Award-winning speaker, author and culture change facilitator
Share this content
concept image with the word 'agile'
iStock/Melpomenem

In mid-2018, Ron Jeffries, an original signatory of the 2001 Agile Manifesto, called for software developers to abandon agile. He said, “too commonly, the ‘agile’ approach a team uses has been imposed. Larger-scale ‘agile’ methods appear actually to recommend imposition of process. These so-called methods are pitched to the enterprise, and the enterprise is expected to install them, or roll them out”.

What’s frustrating him – as it is with other signatories of that 2001 document – is that they’re seeing organisations that want to be more flexible in their approach make the same mistake they have always made. That is, trying to fix a problem with training.

The key to being successfully agile is not slavishly following a process or using it to shortcut existing systems, but in having a team of people who understand the value of the steps required.

As has been proven before with other attempts to improve the way that projects are delivered, sending everyone on an agile training course (in this case) won’t change a thing.

What has been proven to work by those global organisations that others consider to be agile, is that their people have developed a flexible mindset, co-created a culture that supports difference of opinion, have a willingness to try different things and aren’t afraid to fail.

In the Agile Manifesto, four principles were identified for those organisations that wanted to embrace greater flexibility. I have listed these below and highlighted the importance of helping others to build a growth mindset, such that the organisation can evolve the way that it gets things done.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The key to being successfully agile is not slavishly following a process or using it to shortcut existing systems, but in having a team of people who understand the value of the steps required, an understanding of each other’s personalities and an agreement on how the people in the team will work together honestly, respectfully and with discipline to get the job done.

Growth mindset people accept that ‘the way we do things around here’ is continually evolving and needs to be challenged and changed. As Ed Catmull said in his excellent book Creativity Inc: “anyone should be able to talk to anyone else at any level at any time”. This is especially true if the organisation is to remove barriers to swifter product (and value) delivery.

Working products over comprehensive documentation

The team understands that perfection can’t be achieved and that while it’s important to capture the information about what needs to be built, it doesn’t have to be a 100-page document with 25 signatories.

Organisations that successfully make the transition to more agile ways of getting things done are staffed with individuals who aren’t told what to do.

They take a ‘published not perfect’ approach to delivery and focus on continual iteration. Fixed mindset people are focused on documenting perfection and having endless conversations, often stubbornly sticking rigidly to their point of view and not being open to the opinions of others.

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Growth mindset teams know that the customer is part of the team culture and doesn’t sit outside of it. They know that they are at the heart of what’s being developed and that they can see regular progress. They don’t spend weeks ‘dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s’. They put their trust in each other to build a culture that does things in the right way.

The contract is never used as a weapon and instead merely provides a foundation upon which great relationships can be built and milestones achieved.

Responding to change over following a plan

Growth mindset teams know that change is important to meet the customer expectations. They are aware that planning is critical but endlessly planning is not, and that Microsoft Project might not always be the best way to display a schedule. They also know that managing risk will reduce uncertainty, but applying a corporate matrix to each one is not always necessary.

Fixed mindset teams avoid change and actively work against it. They insist on lines of work breakdown structure before they’ll take responsibility and won’t waver from its completion.

Organisations that successfully make the transition to more agile ways of getting things done are staffed with individuals who aren’t told what to do.

They’re allowed to be flexible in their thinking and are personally invested in the culture that they’ve built. They respect each other’s way of working and set up their space based on that. They capture the ‘right amount’ of information in order to meet the customer’s expectations and relentlessly look for ways to add extra value.

According to the 2015 Standish Group Chaos report, only 39% of agile projects are considered successful and just like their waterfall counterparts, those agile projects that fail are held back by one thing – people.

To be more agile, then teams need to be given the following:

  • Insights into who they are and each other’s personalities (self-awareness and empathy).
  • An agreement on what’s acceptable and what’s not (behaviours).
  • An agreement on how they’ll work together (collaboration).
  • An agreement on how they’ll find better ways to do things (innovation).
  • Some principles they can hold each other to account to (culture).
  • Regular ideas that further develop their thinking and skillset.

As Carol Dweck said in her book Mindset, “with the right mindset and the right teaching, people are a lot more capable than we think”. With the right investment in the right program, any organisation can become more agile over time.

Interested in this topic? Read Learning strategy: how to upskill an agile organisation.

Replies (0)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.