Agile Business

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?