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State of the Art in Agile

In 2018, Steve Denning declared that "Agile is eating the world." Indeed, today the appetite for Agile hasn't died down. The adoption of Agile and its practices is increasingly common in workplaces (and not just in software and tech spaces). Mainstream adoption includes the oil industry with Shell and construction conglomerate BAM, as well as different sectors of knowledge work. Still, broader adoption hasn't come without controversy.

With a background in software, architecture, Agile, and Scrum, Xebia's Serge Beaumont is in a unique position to give insight into the current state of all things Agile. Beaumont studied mechanical engineering but ultimately got hired in IT as a programmer. Since 2007, he's worked as a consultant for ING, TomTom, and Shell, among others, in adopting Agile methods. We asked him to fill us in on the state of Agile in 2022. 

What does it mean to be Agile today?
The main reasons I’ve come across to use Agile are innovation, faster time to market and attracting and retaining talent. To do so means leaner, self-organized autonomous teams. Prototype and deploy. Learn from past mistakes. I like Jeff Sutherland’s analogy with chess: easy to learn, hard to master. 

More specifically, there are seven key points to implement Agile successfully: 

  • Leadership: Clarity of vision, improve the system, protect the culture
  • Ecosystem: Create the environment that enables and not hinders Agile
  • Culture: Create psychological safety, learn continuously, be autonomous
  • Community: Learn and share knowledge, connect and support each other.
  • Knowledge: Knowing what is and is not good Agile.
  • Consistent language: Enable communication and reduce inconsistency
  • Experience: Nothing replaces real experience to understand Agile  

Think of these as separate chess boards, played at the same time. The trick is to make sure they are all consistent with each other.

What are the leading Agile trends for 2022?Agile_003
One surfacing trend is diversity of interpretation and experience. Nowadays people come into an organization with prior experience in other organizations. The definitions and experiences differ for each of them, leading to a fragmentation of internal adoptions and maturity.

A second trend is scaling. More and more organizations are scaling by default instead of starting with a smaller experiment, instead of gaining experience by starting from a team level to team-of-teams level and onwards. The core team-of-teams building blocks are relatively mature through the various scaling frameworks like LeSS, Scrum at Scale and SAFe. Taking this to a whole-organization ecosystem level is where there is plenty of room to grow.

Finally, the third big trend I see is Agile applied in new areas, two major current waves are into construction or procurement. Moreover, Agile in research and development, where R&D is integrated into the day-to-day workings of an organization, will be essential in pushing innovations, improvements, and solutions. [LINK AGILE IN …?]

How do you build a successful Agile company today?
Building a successful Agile company today requires mastering three things: the ability to create and nurture good Agile teams, connecting them well into Agile teams-of-teams (value streams), and the ability to create the right ecosystem for Agile.

Start with good lego blocks and build with cohesion. The first thing is to learn how to create good Agile teams. After all, teams are the fundamental building blocks of an organization. The next step is connecting those teams. This is where scaling comes in. How do you organize your teams in a process-oriented fashion in value streams? Most companies come from a very departmental and siloed way of organization.

Some organizations might start with the value streams. Some organizations begin at the team level, but all the pieces of the puzzle fit in the end. The moment the puzzle fits, you can also branch out to other things, such as finding better methods of continuous improvement, adding value, and working on the ecosystem at large. Having a solid foundation allows real growth and innovation. 

For example, connecting the business and marketing team with the IT team to create a single value stream instead of keeping them siloed. It's more functional to collaborate. And it speaks to the shift today from product orientation to problem-solving and customer-based orientation.

Common ecosystem examples are the flexibilization of classic job functions with HR, changing how budgeting is done with Finance, and integrating Procurement more deeply into the value streams.

What are some of the common pitfalls and mistakes?
Many organizations are hard to change. An Agile organizational architecture should be open to evolve. Keep the organization simple framework by removing structures that are not needed anymore: a “minimum viable bureaucracy”.

Culture plays a key role. Fear of failure is a common pitfall that not only hurts innovation and experimentation, but also the clarity needed to truly tackle an organizations underlying causes of low performance. Leadership should protect and guide Agile principles to enable real improvement instead of superficial window dressing.

What about different Agile frameworks?
Despite being competitors, the different Agile frameworks are actually pretty similar. And there are some core concepts that they all share. It's more a question of preference rather than which framework is genuinely better. SAFe gives a lot out of the box but in doing so is relatively rigid, while a framework like SAFe does not do any hand-holding but gives guidance on the core elements that must be in place when an organization evolves and stays Agile.

What do you see for the future of Agile?
If we look into the future, we have freed up the operational side of things with Agile. So, Agile's logical next step will be about enabling organizations in how they distribute power and decision-making through their governance and structures. 

In my opinion, sociocratic methods like Holacracy and especially Sociocracy 3.0 are two exciting candidates in inspiring us to the next level. That's where genuinely advanced companies will be in the next 5-10 years. It answers how to distribute mandate and decision making deep into the organization while retaining overall cohesion and professionalism. The is very attractive for people, as it allows for more freedom, self-direction, and self-organization while still being connected and contributing to the greater while. They can work in an environment where they can use all their talent and have a sense of ownership over their actions.

Final thoughts?
Good ideas come from anywhere. If you deeply understand Agile, everything else becomes part of your toolbox. As Xebians we look at where a company is now, help them deeply understand Agile, and teach them how to use the rich toolbox that is out there to find the best path forward to grow and meet its goals.
Serge Beaumont
Where are you in your Agile Journey? And how can we help with your Agile Transformation?

1. First Time Agile? Become an Agile Organization.

2. Want to speed up your Agile Journey by fixing what is broken? Repair Agile.

3. Go Beyond Agile! Want to become a frontrunner? Agile NXT and go further.

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