The whole company “Agile”?

Last month while I was discussing with my friend Siraj we started to ask ourselves why the Agile “philosophy” doesn’t get popular in the whole company. What I mean is that nowadays it’s kind of easy to find the software/product development department of companies using Agile methodologies, but what else is missing or needed to the Human Resources, Marketing, Finance, Administration, Sales and every other departments join this movement?

When you start with Agile development, not only the software development process changes but many other things related to how your company works. For instance, it’s very difficult to think about an Agile team that will succeed with “command-and-control” management. The teams are self-managed, which implies a different style of management. Instead of bosses that keep asking for things done, we have servant leaders which provide all possible resources so that their teams can work and make decisions. The base of the pyramid begins to make decisions and not the top anymore, because they have the best work knowledge and therefore are the most suitable to do it. In some extreme cases in modern companies like Semco, the very employees are the ones who hire their managers.

That is, when we talk about agile methods, even though we are referring to the Agile software development methods, there are a lot of other concepts and philosophies that we are implicitly talking about (because they are very closely related).

I have an example to better explain where I want to go with this. I once worked for a company of reasonable size that, like many others of this size, had a traditional Human Resources department. One day I had a problem and needed urgent assistance from the HR staff. When I talked to them, two bad things happened. First, they treated me badly and like if they were doing a favor to me. Second, they said that my request would be met only in a few days because they had many important things to do first. What was happening was that my daughter was very sick, I had a problem with my health insurance and they were not willing to approve my daughter’s appointment with a doctor. A HR team with the “agile culture” would know in first place that since I am their main “user”, I deserve attention, respect and my problems are their problems. The emergencies of their users should be more important than any paperwork they have to do. And second, even though their backlog was abnormally large, a case with such severity should certainty jump the queue.

So when I say that other departments of companies could be “agile”, I am not suggesting that they work with Agile software development – which would make no sense – but that they use the same concepts of leadership, self-organizing teams working in a participatory environment, based on trust and cooperation, making a better effort to understand who are their “users” and what are their needs, create visions for their products and departments (that would help them make better decisions) and so on.

Getting this HR department above to speak up as an example, wouldn’t it be perfectly acceptable for them to do a personas exercise to discover what is the profile and the characteristics of their users? Wouldn’t it be great if they did chartering sessions, discussed their values, made retrospectives to discover how to improve their process and so on? Imagine how transparent and organized would be if the HR team had a big Kanban board in their room showing the activities, progress and their bottlenecks?

I think that this may not happen because much of the material and examples available on these subjects nowadays are formatted for people related to software development. Yes, there are books such as those of Ricardo Semler who are categorized in bookstores as “Business”, but I don’t see much business people really interested in these subjects. Why is that?

It’s time to finish with this “fork” between companies’ agile communities and the other departments. In Agile adoptions we frequently see after some time two totally different companies working within one. We must bring people from other areas and other hierarchical levels to the conferences and our world and show them these ideas. I will love the day that it will be possible to go to an Agile Conference and talk not only to software people but also HR managers, VPs of Marketing and other guys who are not in the development department; or else when we can find in user group meetings not only the “agilists” but also managers, human resources analysts, accountants and so on.

And now, where do we start?

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3 Responses to “The whole company “Agile”?”

  1. Siraj says:

    Hello Guilherme – this is an excellent post. Thank you very much.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of taking Lean and Agile to the world of business. I am sure you and your friends will also enjoy this experience. Lets talk more and write more.

    Best wishes and happy new year!
    Siraj

  2. Siraj says:

    Hi Guilherme –

    Once again, thanks for this post and for translating for my benefit. I wish I could read your original post. I miss the emotion and passion which I sense when I listen to you in person.

    Anyway, here are some responses based on what I read above:

    ===============================================
    From your blog – ” That is, when we talk about agile methods, even though we are referring to the Agile software development methods, there are a lot of other concepts and philosophies that we are implicitly talking about (because they are very closely related).”

    and

    “So when I say that other departments of companies could be “agile”, I am not suggesting that they work with Agile software development – which would make no sense – but that they use the same concepts of leadership, self-organizing teams working in a participatory environment, based on trust and cooperation, making a better effort to understand who are their “users” and what are their needs, create visions for their products and departments (that would help them make better decisions) and so on”

    Yes you are absolutely right. Let’s take some of these concepts and philosophies:

    1. AGILE MANIFESTO- The (left hand side of the) Agile Manifesto works very well for business teams (with some modification)

    Individuals and Interactions
    Incremental Business Value (not working software)
    Customer Collaboration
    Responding to Change

    2. I would also add a few more:

    - Limited Work In Progress (this is going to be a great challenge for business teams who love to work on several projects at the same time!!!!)

    - Visualization (“Imagine how transparent and organized would be if the HR team had a big Kanban board in their room showing the activities, progress and their bottlenecks?)

    - Daily Huddles

    - Retrospectives

    - Self Organization

    I am sure you and your friends can come up with more!!

    Just talk to the business and keep the channels open!

    ==============================================

    Next you talk about reading material on this subject (Agile for Business Teams) –

    “I think that this may not happen because much of the material and examples available on these subjects nowadays are formatted for people related to software development. Yes, there are books such as those of Ricardo Semler who are categorized in bookstores as “Business”, but I don’t see much business people really interested in these subjects. Why is that?”

    I would respond that the most of the Agile / Scrum principles and concepts came from the business world. One such reading material is “The New New Product Development Game” – by Hirotaka Takeuchi and Ikujiro Nonaka (I have emailed this article to you) (Harvard Business Review Jan 1986) where they talk about “Moving the Scrum Downfield). There are several other good books and articles that one can refer to. I will send you my list.

    All the best with this!! It is really exciting and interesting to see what else is happening in business.

    ===============================================

    Finally, you speak about next steps:

    “It’s time to finish with this “fork” between companies’ agile communities and the other departments. In Agile adoptions we frequently see after some time two totally different companies working within one. We must bring people from other areas and other hierarchical levels to the conferences and our world and show them these ideas. I will love the day that it will be possible to go to an Agile Conference and talk not only to software people but also HR managers, VPs of Marketing and other guys who are not in the development department; or else when we can find in user group meetings not only the “agilists” but also managers, human resources analysts, accountants and so on.

    And now, where do we start?”

    YES!! I AGREE. Again you are correct.

    I actually believe there are teams – just teams.. no business or IT teams, just teams. We need to get more attention from other players from other teams and similarly we need to provide them our attention.

    IT WORKS BOTH WAYS!!

    So let’s engage them in our conversation, discussions and meetings and let us participate in their meetings.

    Re attending conferences, Why don’t we invite a few businessmen, managers, VPs and Executives to the Agile Brazil conference and ask them for feedback. I think that can be an excellent way to start the dialogue.

    Re your question, “Where do we start?” – All we need to do is START! and the collaboration you speak of will happen.

    Don’t you agree?

    So lets all START…

    See you soon in SFO and lets continue our dialogue!

    Cheers
    Siraj
    Washington DC

  3. Good post, however only some of the points were actually treated really good, I think digging deep for the topic to make it more informative will really help, will be looking forward for more informative post than this. Will suggest some points which are to the best of my knowledge. This might help you bringing more information for all of us.

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