Agility: More flexible! Faster! But where are you heading?

Sometimes it’s hard not to get the impression that the call for agility might in fact be an attempt to make up for a lack of orientation and managerial responsibility. Along the lines of – faster and more flexible, but heading anywhere or nowhere. This is certainly not what the originators of this idea had in mind.

Agility is a matter of mindset and organizational culture

Better self-organisation and more autonomy instead of excessive amounts of bureaucracy and rigid structures; more appreciation of the individual and of personal interaction than of processes and tools; not following a plan that is set in stone but rather responding flexibly to customer requirements: there can’t be many people that fail to find something positive in the ideas of the Agile Manifesto. Being agile is cool. Even though it’s now more than 18 years since the Manifesto was first drawn up.

A question of attitude and mindset.

The authors of the Manifesto, all of whom were software developers, saw themselves as “organisational anarchists” working against “corporate power structures”. So they were in fact revolutionaries who wanted something that should be self-evident: “delivering good products to customers by operating in an environment that does more than talk about ‘people as our most important asset’ but actually ‘acts’ as if people were the most important”, as Jim Highsmith, one of the authors, recalls. According to the interpretation of its intellectual fathers, agility is thus a fundamental attitude which addresses how and for what reason people want to work. We would say – the aim is to set up organisations that make sense, in which values create value.

According to this interpretation, agility cannot be any of the following (without claiming to provide a complete list): a method for fast “optimisation” of performance (otherwise the scrum sprints would lead directly to collective burn-out); a replacement for leadership and orientation (otherwise energy would be pointlessly burned up in a highly agile fashion); another short-term management trend (as agility is a quality of the organisational culture that needs to develop and mature).

Better done than perfect?

A side note: As is often the case, it is also worth considering the Agile Manifesto – which is actually called the Manifesto for Agile Software Development – in the context of its origin. Instead of working in “documentation driven, heavyweight” software development processes, the authors simply wanted to program and deliver fast. “Better done than perfect”, you could say – regular bug fixes and updates included. This may well be an acceptable approach for the word processing software of the PC. By contrast, passengers on flights, for example, would certainly have nothing against the use of the maxim “better perfect than done (fast)”, reliable processes and complete, comprehensible documentation for pilots.

You can read the entire Agile Manifesto here online.

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