How going frameless from agile models can boost organisation agility

06 September 2017 9 min. read
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Changing consumer behaviour and disruptive technologies are changing the game and levelling the playing field across multiple industries. In a bid to keep up with the pace of change, many organisations are embedding Agile ways of working in a bid to bolster go-to-market speed, internal effectiveness and operational efficiency. Rick van Benten and Peter Turien, both Agile consultants at Towson, describe how Agile principles and Agile frameworks can be used to increase organisation agility, as well as the path to becoming a high-performing Agile organisation.

Organisations, governments and employees are facing an environment of continuous social, economic and technological change that results in a wide range of new products and services, sometimes with fierce competition from new parties which are challenging older power structures. To survive and keep up with these changes, organisations have to continuously adapt their blueprint, deliver new products and services in an extremely short time to market, and have to improve to stay competitive and compliant at the same time. This requires a high-performing Agile organisation with a customer centric approach, an Agile delivery process and teams with high intrinsic commitment and ability to self-organise.

The ‘Agile Manifesto’

In response to these mounting challenges, organisations and developers are adopting light-weight development methods like Rational Unified Process (RUP), Dynamic System Programming Method (DSDM) and Extreme Programming (XP). These methods were initially focused on incrementally developing software to continuously improve the value and quality of products and services for customers. Eventually, in 2001 seventeen software pioneers came together to discuss and compare the different light-weight software methods which resulted in the ‘Agile Manifesto’ – a plan consisting of twelve well-known rules that firms can use to increase their agility, flexibility and adaptability.

In short, the Manifesto chooses interaction between individuals instead of process and tooling, working software instead of documentation, collaboration with the customer instead of contract negotiation and response to change instead of following a plan. This opens the door for new Agile frameworks, of which Scrum is the best-known process framework for developing complex software in complex environments. A lot of organisations today embrace the Agile and Scrum principles and use the approach to build high-performing teams. However, the success was typically local – single team Scrums seem to be not very scalable when attempts are made to develop or improve products and services with multiple Agile teams at the same time.

How going frameless from Agile models can boost organisation agility

To solve this problem, a whole array of different kinds of best practices and Agile frameworks were developed: Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), Disciplined Agile Delivery (DaD) and Nexus are the best-known. The frameworks were designed to improve the overall agility of a company. However, they are often complex and difficult to implement and distract organisations and their employees from the core goal: being Agile to adapt to changing circumstances. Often the result is a hybrid Agile organisation based on job security and risk aversion with limited to very limited agility.

This leads to the issue of whether an organisation should strive to implement a framework or just go frameless, using the framework as a reference and focus on the real goal; surviving by delivering better products or services in a short time to market, based on real stakeholder involvement, short communication lines and ability to adapt to necessary change. For organisations that are implementing an Agile framework, this means that they should start customizing the framework and eventually develop their own Agile way of working determined by the maturity and boundaries of their own organisation.

The road to a high-performing Agile organisation

A lot of organisations, teams and employees work according to the Agile and Scrum principles and strive to become a high-performing Agile organisation that continuously delivers, improves and adapts to changing circumstances. But what does an Agile organisation look like? This is a question the best practices and frameworks do not answer, because it calls for a fearsome combination of personal attitude, stamina in the way of working, simplicity in organisational structure and clear endorsement from all stakeholders.

So instead of developing a new comprehensive definition of a high-performing Agile organisation, it is probably better to determine the characteristics of an Agile organisation. A high-performing firm such as this excels in four elements: customer centric approach, Agile delivery process, motivated self-supporting teams, and an Agile architecture.

Customer-centric approach
Changing market conditions and customers needs determine the strategy and direction of an Agile organisation. Not only a customer-centric approach and good understanding of the market conditions are therefore essential for Agile organisations. What is vital is the ability and stamina to act and make choices based on these movements.

Agile delivery process
An Agile organisation is capable of continuous delivery of services or products (running the business), and improving its products and services (changing the business) at the same time. To make this possible, Agile organisations need to have a clear Agile delivery process in place to enable this way of working.

A high-performing Agile organisation exists of four elements

Motivated self-supporting team
Furthermore, the Agile organisation consists of motivated self-supporting and organising teams that continuously deliver and improve the organisation, products services and way of working. The teams assess their performance, motivation and impediments regularly and identify how they should improve their collaboration.

Agile architecture

An Agile organisation is based on an architecture that can be both Agile and flexible. There is a long term roadmap, but even these roadmaps consist of compartments that can be brought in sync with the delivery of epics and releases. Thus, the architecture enables teams to continuously deliver, improve and adapt to changing circumstances while keeping focus on midterm strategy, which is still desperately needed to ensure focus.

The road to continuous delivery and improvement

Of course, the most important question is how organisations become high-performing organisations that are capable of continuously adapting to the rapidly changing environment!

First, there is no silver bullet and no size that fits all. Every organisation has its own starting point and Agile maturity curve. Most organisations start small and gradually scale up, in the process of which firms often see an accelerating effect of more teams making the change at once. Traditionally, the IT department introduces the Agile way of working, after which the business follows. If an organisation can avoid this route, they are advised to do so. Once the perception is that IT “owns” Agile, it will take a lot of effort to create equal ownership over all stakeholders.

Today many companies are so convinced of the value of the Agile way of working that they decide on a corporate level to transform their organisation into a high performing Agile organisation.

Still, all organisations need to face and overcome a lot of challenges with the right combination of Agile principles and leadership, determination and stamina, skills, and experience to create a high-performing Agile organisation. Therefore, it is vital to ensure stakeholder endorsement and commitment to the Agile way of working within the organisation. Stakeholders have to be loud and clear in their support towards the Agile transition.

Quote Rick van Benten

Over time, a lot of Agile maturity matrices and measurement tools have been introduced to measure the agility of an organisation. The support of these maturity matrices is questionable because they only identify what organisations lack, rather than identifying what actions should be undertaken to continuously improve. Moreover, the matrices could easily be misused by management or rejected by employees.

Since Agile is all about ownership, teams and organisations should determine their maturity and growth on the basis of Shuhari. Shuhari is a Japanese martial arts concept that describes the three steps to maturity from first learning to mastery and is appropriately used to express the agility of an organisation.

In order to become a high-performing Agile organisation, it is necessary to learn and master each of the vital elements of such organisation. Each element goes through the stages of Shuhari, which, in the end, results in continuous delivery, improvement and a high-performing organisation.

In conclusion

To continuously adapt to changing circumstances, an organisation strives to become a high- performing Agile organisation. In other words, an organisation with a customer-centric focus that consists of multiple motivated self-supporting teams that can run and change the business at the same time, and is built on a flexible and Agile architecture.

However, the road to Agile maturity is steep and organisations will face many different challenges that cannot be fixed by Agile frameworks and principles alone. To increase their agility, organisations should move away from the dogmatic implementation of pre-determined frameworks. In other words they should go frameless to keep focus on the real goal: being Agile to adapt to changing circumstances. In the long run this is the way to face the fast pace of the ever changing world.