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Stop Making Organizations Agile! Start Making Organizations Money

Some companies are disappointed with their Agile Transformations. The problem is not Agile, the problem is the way it’s being applied. Agile is being used as a result and not a means to an end.

When I ask clients what’s driving their desire to be Agile, it’s a red flag when they say things like “because our executives want us to be Agile” or “because our competitors are Agile”. Agile is an optimization, but if you don’t know what you’re optimizing for, you won’t get there.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

— Lewis Carroll

I recently ruffled the feathers of some Agile Coaches by stating that “Our goal is not to make the client Agile, but rather to make them money. And Agile is a great way to do that.” They challenged me by asking “If something better came along tomorrow, would you just kick Agile to the curb?” Think about the question that for a moment. “If something better came along.” If there was a better way to help the organization make money, would you do it, or would you just keep trying to make them Agile? If you choose to keep on the Agile path and ignore better options, then I would argue that you are not Agile after all.

When Agile is the Goal. What happens when Agile is the goal? If Agile is so great, why wouldn’t becoming Agile make us more money as a by-product? Think about what happens in an Agile Transformation. First, you are going to select teams to start with. If my goal is to be Agile, I’m going to select the easiest teams. If my goal is to make money, I’m going to select the teams with the most at stake, the biggest opportunity, and the biggest risk.

Zooming down into the team level, if I’m Agile-focused I’m going to want to make sure the team is doing all the things that make them a good Agile team; the practices, the behaviors, the collaboration. This is all good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not all equally important. If I’m Money-Focused, I’m heavily driving the team towards their biggest opportunity. For example, one team I worked with this was being value-driven. The team prioritized and worked their user stories in a way that would give them the most value soonest. They made different choices than they had been when they were sequencing for efficiency. They also made different choices than they would have if we had focused them on collaboration, clear story writing, DevOps tools, etc. Note: depending on the team, something else might have brought the most value.

Banish the phrase “that’s not Agile”. The Agile Manifesto is aspirational. It’s expected to be a journey of continuous improvement. Also, don’t confuse Agile with Scrum. I think people who don’t follow Scrum by the book feel like they are not allowed to say they are Agile.

If you are moving towards the values in the Agile Manifesto, you’re Agile. If you are making improvements that improve your outcomes, you’re Agile. If you are seeking and discovering new and better ways of working, you’re Agile.

Know what levers to pull and when to pull them. Sequencing improvements is a bit of an art form. There’s a variety of factors at play including culture, politics, constraints, and traction. DO NOT try to peanut butter spread all improvements at once! This will yield little or no improvement in outcomes and a whole lot of confusion.

Find a place to start where you can gain the most leverage and push hard. This is not necessarily the sure-win or low-hanging fruit. Find a place where the change will make an impact and go big. Transformations are not for wimps.

Sequence and strategy for a successful transformation require experience. I recommend consulting with a neutral third party expert on your transformation strategy. They will not be clouded by assumptions and they will also bring the benefit of multiple experiences.

How have you balanced between becoming Agile and achieving outcomes? Tell us about it!

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