Agile this, agile that. What really counts is impact

Agility is about flexibility and initiative, new frontiers and team spirit. It’s about focusing on the needs of the customer and about better products. So really, who wouldn’t want to be agile? No one is motivated by bureaucracy and outdated ideas. Nothing is more frustrating than sluggish and complicated decision-making processes and pointless tasks.

We all desire efficiency and effectiveness, we all want to work together successfully.

So becoming more agile makes sense. But how do we do this? There are many agile methods by agile experts – and these are valuable, because they are effective. But methods alone don’t create agile organizations. There are plenty of examples that demonstrate that agile methods (Design Thinking, Scrum, and others) often clash with the realities in large organizations. SAP’s new book – “Comeback der Konzerne” (The corporates strike back) by Lucas Sauberschwarz and Lysander Weiss – gives ample proof of this.

The question remains: What does one need to become more agile? In our opinion, three things:

1. People in a given organization need to discuss and decide how to work together.

The ability to do this is what distinguishes us homo sapiens from similar species. A group of chimpanzees is perfectly organized, but they are not capable of reflecting on their structure and then quickly reorganizing themselves. Nor can they apply new forms of collaborating to large groups of more than 50. We humans, however, can at any time renegotiate how we work together, can introduce new forms of collaboration, and can apply these to large teams and groups – e.g. corporations – even in decentralized organizations with many thousands of employees. So, where this form of communicating and renegotiating happens, the chances of becoming more agile are good.

2. An agile leadership style is required.

Leaders need to initiate communication, need to be a part of it, and need to allow new forms to be tried out, such as self-organization. Many examples from the world of business attest to this, from companies like Harley Davidson to the examples that Frédéric Laloux researched for his book “Reinventing organizations,” all organizations that were agile long before agility became the new big thing. This all sounds plausible, right? The only problem is that this requires leaders to leave their comfort zone. Not every boss feels comfortable embracing uncertainty. Not every boss likes the idea of giving up control, sharing power, and letting others become part of the decision-making process. But not even face-to-face communication – which is called for in the trailblazing “Manifesto for agile software development” – is in the repertoire of every leader. So – whenever a boss is willing to learn new behavior, agility has just come into reach.

3. Inefficient forms of collaboration need to consistently be replaced with better ones.

3. Inefficient forms of collaboration need to consistently be replaced with better ones. In doing so, one breaks with old patterns. What is needed is a real shift within corporate culture, ideally sparking an evolutionary process. For, the agile methods of today are likely to already be outdated tomorrow. It’s not even about picking the right method, be it Design Thinking, Scrum, Kanban or Lean Startup. In its core, agility means to truly adapt the chosen method to the needs and conditions within the organization. Online, you’ll find all sorts of interesting forms made up of a mix of various agile methods. It seems that many sharp minds have noticed that agile methods created with software development in mind aren’t always easy to use in other industries. What truly counts – in the end – is a boost in efficiency, and not how well a particular method is implemented.

Here’s the bottom line: Agility is crucial today for teams and organizations that want to stay at the top of their game in quickly changing markets. Those who want to become agile shouldn’t let themselves be dazzled by buzzwords and methods but should instead boldly break free from old patterns and keep establishing new ones: in their own lives, in their teams, and in their organizations.