7 Things You Got Wrong About Agile

Agile is a powerful business tool, with the 2018 State of Agile report showing that the majority of organizations that adopt Agile see increased business value. Despite the widespread adoption, there are still many myths and misconceptions about Agile. We look at some of the biggest.

1. Agile is Just for IT and Software

Agile originated in software but it has since been applied in almost every industry and environment – HR, recruiting, marketing, manufacturing and fighter plane cockpit design. There is even a pretty famous Ted Talk by Bruce Feiler about how he and his family applied Agile in the home Agile’s versatility is its greatest strength. It provides capabilities to iterate and discover solutions to complex problems in any industry – whether it’s helping government define better policies or auto manufacturers seeking ways to reduce emissions.

2. Agile Uses Little or No Planning

The emphasis in Agile is on ‘Planning’ – not ‘The Plan’. There is extensive planning in Agile at every level – from Product Visioning, Roadmapping, Release Planning, Sprint Planning, even the daily Scrum and stand up focuses on the detailed daily planning. One of the fundamental values of Agile is responding to change, learning and feedback. Change is not only expected, it’s valued – we create opportunities to continuously discover better ways to do things and better areas to invest in. Agile teams hope to discover and learn new things that they can take advantage of to deliver ever-increasing value to their organizations and customers. Since plans are expected to change, we invest heavily in planning – not the plan. The plan will likely change and even be discarded but the things we learn while planning are leveraged in generating the new plan.

3. Agile is About Cost Reduction

If someone is telling you that you’re going to reduce costs by adopting Agile, they’re likely trying to sell you something. Agile is a different mindset and approach to tackling problems and enabling customer opportunities. It’s about maximizing value by maximizing the return on investment. The goal is not to cut costs. Agile helps organizations innovate and focus on highest value opportunities and will probably help you avoid working on unnecessary things, reducing waste and risk.

4. Agile Means No Documentation

This myth usually comes from an incorrect reading of the Agile manifesto, which states that we value ‘working software over comprehensive documentation’. An important word here is ‘comprehensive’ which means documenting everything. Not all documents are worth creating just like not all product features are worth implementing. Some documents are more valuable than others. I usually advise that teams take a similar approach to documentation as they do with any product feature: Does the document have a well-defined and important user with a well-defined and important purpose? If so, let’s create it. If not, lets create something else.

5. You Don’t know What You’re Going to Get

Many people believe that Agile teams cannot predict what they’re going to be delivering and when. You might sometimes hear “you get what you get when you get it!” This is not exactly true. In reality there is a lot of transparency, visibility and planning on Agile teams. By always working on the most important items, and by always focusing to complete them as quickly as possible, Agile teams have potentially releasable features at the end of every iteration or sprint. The most valuable things are easy to guarantee. Attempting to predict the completion of lower priority items will likely be far less accurate. After all, we hope the lesser valuable part of the backlog will change – in fact we expect it will. Those new ideas, learning and feedback that we haven’t got yet, it’s true we cannot predict those, but those items at the top of our priority list we can certainly predict their completion. The highest priority items — the most valuable things are not just predictable, but they are likely to be worked on next, or they may even be completed already.

6. Agile is Project Methodology

Anyone who has used Agile can testify to how wide-reaching the effects are. Most organizations typically begin their Agile adoption to improve the speed and performance of their software and technology teams and soon realize that adopting Agile often means changing how we structure teams; how we recruit; how we hire; how we measure success; how we fund initiatives; how we manage risk etc. The implications are far broader than any team or project. Organizations often realize that the Agile values and principles that make these technology teams successful will allow other areas of the organization to be successful too

7. There is One Perfect Way to Implement Agile

There is no absolute best way – or the one right way — to do Agile. It really depends on your business, your team, the problems you’re trying to solve, and the environment you operate in. There are very few things that you would always do. There are very few things that you would never do. You might find that 99% of the time you never do something, but then you come across the that one team, trying to solve that one customer problem in that one situation where it is the exact right thing to do.

The more you taste and try different ideas; test things through trial and error; and empower people to take ownership over their process, the more you’ll learn the best way for you. Even then, as your teams mature and your needs and environment changes, the best way will likely change too. There is no one right way, you have to figure out what is the right way for you.

Every Ounce of Value

Understanding the concept of ‘Every Ounce of Value’ means recognising a core truth. Value is created by the people at the bottom. As the value creators, the people in the trenches and on the ground are who create the products, speak to the consumers and are best placed to make quick decisions.

The goals of any Agile business need to empower this group, becoming enablers of their value. In this way, you’ll see two clear groups emerge. Those who create the value and those who are there to support and empower. While companies are often inundated with staff who do not fit these categories, meant for compliance or process or keeping others in line – we believe that anyone outside of the two value definitions simply has no value in an Agile organization.

In order for this system to work, traditional hierarchies and business environments need to be revisited, and in some cases burned to the ground. Historically, systems and processes were put into place to feed the very top. The reporting and transparency in an old-fashioned business ecosystem was all upwards facing. This was intended so that the people at the top of the food chain could understand and consume, and then enforce top down decision making. The people at the very bottom simply followed the process, and so found themselves stuck if their situation in practice deviated in any way.

This now has to change. Turning the traditional hierarchy on its head, an Agile organization looks to push decision making further and further down the business chain. When successful, value creators feel empowered to make smart choices and quick changes, eliminating the levels of process and bureaucracy to get answers and put movement into place. With this structure, they not only get involved in tactical planning, but can focus on individual interactions, and get away from the stifling nature of top-down process altogether.

All Agile businesses should be investing in environments to optimize for the people at the very bottom, trusting and empowering every ounce of value at its source.