The Two Faces of Agile: Tools or Culture?

April 12, 2019
7 minute read

Is Becoming Agile About Tools or Culture?

Companies are looking to us to become more agile, but often do not understand what agile is. They are large and mature organizations which have the desire to evolve and to make their processes faster and more responsive to customer needs.

In the world of Google, when you seek out ‘How to increase company’s agility’, you’re mainly going to see two possibilities on your results. On one hand, you’re going to see how to implement tools and techniques to increase agility, and the other, less frequently but extremely important, is how to focus on agile as a culture.

1. Agile as a Tool

Organizations that use agile tools often have their processes formed and deeply embedded. It doesn’t mean that they have excellent processes in place, but they exist, and their people follow them. In this scenario, the use of independent techniques and tools, such as Scrum, Kanban, XP, generate some specific results. Increasing work visibility using boards, speeding up the process with ceremonies, use of charts focused on user stories, frameworks to manage activities or programming techniques is often a gate to something much bigger.

If you are in this state today and want to go further, try to have the support of someone who knows and has lived through these processes. The experience of an Agile Coach can help your company see opportunities, and to invest in improvements to its processes, products, services and employees.

2. Agile as a Culture

We can describe any culture in terms of tangible and intangible elements. In the tangible elements, there is technology, furniture, lighting, infrastructure, etc. In the intangible part, we see how people dress, style of interaction between people, hierarchical structure, and mindset, among others. For some, focusing on the interaction of individuals rather than methods and tools may be natural, but for others, some ongoing support is needed to see this invisible part. Focusing on the collaborative process rather than contractual negotiation is a challenge as well. In looking at creating an agile culture, evolution is not direct, but it is consistent. It requires discipline and focus, and in the end, the result is transformational.

The five key elements for a culture of change to be evaluated in an organization before implementing any strategy, are Improvement, Focus, Urgency, Vision, and Teamwork.

  • Improvement Culture: corresponds to how well people in a company (including management) take the initiative to improve.
  • Urgency Culture: refers to how urgently people care about delivering results now, not later.
  • Teamwork Culture: refers to how strong people’s mutual commitment is for working and collaborating together.
  • Focus Culture:  evaluates how likely people are to remain focused on their tasks, projects and commitments to getting things done.
  • Vision Culture: is everyone united around a common vision?

These five elements analyzed together, allow a deeper understanding of organizational culture and how to change it.

The advantage of analyzing all these elements beforehand will enable an organization to define what results they want after the transformation stabilizes. Some results should be an increase in quality of their products and services, greater speed to market, and increased efficiency in their retention of employees, among others.

Depending on the type of organization, less intense approaches with gradual changes could be chosen instead of very intense approaches that may generate some business disruption.

3. Three Approaches

A guide with three possible approaches is offered to the reader to reflect on the best way of helping your organization become agile.

  1. Train and Launch: Consists essentially of training a group of people to teach them some practices and start the work. In this model of low intervention, it is expected that the processes are gradually improved because those who receive the training will gradually experiment with the new ways in their day to day work. On the other hand, this approach takes more time to be adopted in the organization, and often the necessary changes in the structure of the organization do not happen.
  2. Assess and Coach: This second approach is often one of the best strategies. It allows the organization to define the best implementation pace.  The concepts will be customized for each group and/or team, and training will be conducted as needed, allowing people to learn and develop structural changes to overcome obstacles.
  3. Intensive Implementation: An intensive implementation will bring on the greatest benefits in the short-term. This type of approach is recommended when the organization goes through a critical moment of survival or wants the changes to be rapidly incorporated into its day-to-day operations. In this case, external teams will support internal teams so that organizational designs are implemented with the results measured over time.

You do not have to choose either agile tools or agile culture to get started. You can choose both and have the greatest benefits of everything.

To start, it’s important to have a clear objective in mind. Any and all agile changes need to have a clear context and focus so that the techniques can be a means and not an end.

In summary, there are several ways to implement agile in organizations. The best approach is one that can leverage the current status quo and enable the organization to adopt new practices through existing resources and knowledge.

CLICK HERE for more information about how to use the Real Agility Assessment.

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Berteig Consulting

Empower Your Entire Organization with BERTEIG Consulting in Agile, Scrum, Kanban, SAFe and LEAN.

Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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