söndag 17 januari 2016

Safety first

I sat on a seminar this summer and listened to veterans in the banking sector who were talking about "organizational agility". It was clear to me that they viewed agility as something for the future rather than for today, and that it was something associated with a lack of security. "You don't build nuclear plants using agile methods!" one of them said, and the others agreed.

In other words: none of them had any personal experience of organizational agility.

To have agility in a collaboration you need to drive out fear. No one will ever delegate any mandates if they are afraid that it leads to catastrophes. No one will dare to act within the mandates they have if they don't feel confident and safe. And for that you need safety for real.

That is precisely why so many agile techniques are about safety and securing things:

The definitions of done for all kind of deliverables standardize what is being done to them, and any deviations are reported at reviews.

You agree on the conditions when people should flag that a goal won't be met.

Escalation processes for problems are known, agreed upon, and fast. The organization has invested in automated tests that stops defects from propagating.

The continuous improvement is done through series of small experiment.

All items in an agile backlog have full traceability to corresponding constraints and business cases. We are safe that we do the right things and that we do them right and safe.

Also: all the agile techniques that are about increasing transparency (value boards, backlogs, effective meetings, cross functional teams etc) are in fact about increasing safety and reducing risk. And it works the other way around too: if there is fear, there is no transparency.

If you are a seasoned veteran in a business ruled by tradition, and you hear about what the agile methods can bring: ability to change fast, to deliver fast, to work without extensive plans that are made up on beforehand, I can really understand that you imagine that being accomplished by reducing control and discipline.

But if you want to achieve organizational agility for real you need to do the opposite: increase discipline and control. The agile methods aren't agile in themselves. They are rather quite rigid. But they enable organizational agility.

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