An Agilist's Tale Part 3 - Our Mutual Friend

We can all get along...

We can all get along...

The final episode in a three part blog series about a history of agile told from our protagonists view. You can find Part 1 here  and Part 2 here.


What's interesting to me is what will happen to Agile now and next?  What do I see and what do I think the future will be like?   It’s already been a journey of many great surprises.  I wasn’t alone in the early 2000’s expecting that Agile would have swept the world within a few years and that by now we’d be long finished teaching people how to run an effective standup and that breaking work down into smaller chunks is a good idea, and yet I am still doing those things today. 


Over the years I’ve seen plenty of Agile myths disappear.  In the beginning there was a belief that you couldn’t use an agile approach beyond one team: this was dissolved when many companies proved that you could, in fact many teams self selected into these approaches when they witnessed counterpart teams having successes.  We used to believe that we couldn’t ever crack ‘the infrastructure problem’ the last mile of getting your software to production:  the problem solving on this quandary effectively gave birth to the DevOps movement and Continuous Delivery.  It used to be protested that Agile meant no documents, and therefore any regulated environment couldn’t utilise an approach like that: this was dispelled with the maturing of digital tools that support Agile processes, the Jiras, Rallys and even Microsoft came to the party with audit proof tooling, and insurance companies, government agencies and banks could get on board.  We were told that it could never work on remote teams, this unfortunately collided with a trend towards companies offshoring large amounts of of technology teams to cheaper service providers in other countries.  But you can work in these ways remotely, and many companies, such as REA group and ThoughtWorks have proved this with hundreds of delivery engineers working remotely in other parts of the world.  (Read more about that here!)


In order to solve these barriers, Agile thinking has matured approaches, made adjustments, adapted communication.  There’s such a will to work as teams in these adaptive and collaborative ways, that the community has overcome all the challenges of how to embed better ways of working into their organisations.  There seems like nothing that we can’t adapt to an Agile way of working, or no organisation that Agile can’t adapt to. 


What’s very encouraging is the number of enormous and old organisations that are publicly adopting Agile.  It used to be that Suncorp was the only Australian example that you could point to doing this at scale, then Telstra made a bold move,  which then turned into a bit of a flop, these were around a decade ago.  I was involved in the Australia Post push to go Agile with the creation of it's Digital Delivery Centre around 2012, which has now pervaded to other parts of the organisation.  So I’ve seen up close what it takes to turn a ship that’s 200 years old and heavily invested in ‘old ways of working’.  It wasn’t easy, but somehow they have evolved to become an organisation that learns and adapts in shorter cycles.  Auspost had three characteristics that made it imperative to change:

  • A burning platform - mail volumes declining due to digital disruption
  • Ability to invest $ - whether we like it or not they still have plenty of money
  • Support from the top - A leadership team that could ride the tide of inevitable friction that wholesale change would bring


We now hear that ANZ are going Agile, Commbank has many Agile coaches in their wealth area and NAB were also in the press recently talking agility.  Despite the scepticism this creates in the Agile community and the mutterings of practitioners and coaches, for me this is a sign that gives me enormous amounts of optimism for the future of Agile.  In fact there’s a new fashion around town that’s doing the rounds, I noticed, ‘Organisational Agility’ is now a coined term, Hip Hip Hooray!  if we can get more departments outside of technology to adapt these ways of working for themselves and enjoy the full ‘Agile Organisation’ experience.  The great thing about that (that Agile coaches might not tell you)  is technology is the hardest place to bring in these ways of working, everything else is much simpler than getting software to integrate, so trying Organisational Agility is entirely possible - go ask your Agile software teams to tell you all about it. 


Of course there will always be debate and discourse, misunderstanding and confusion, yesterday I heard a podcast presenter say that ‘going Agile’ meant we had to have hot-desking! There will also continue to be sensitivity about the word, recently I was asked to give a talk on 'Scaling Agile' without using the words ‘Scaling' or ‘Agile'.  We’re now in a world where some half ass attempts and fails, and dogmatic Agile people have scared some punters off.


Agile transformations may never pervade into the organisation as far as we proud Agilists would wish.  I know people who are highly skilled and sought after at the start of a transformation can crash and burn a year or two in, when it’s clear the org has moved as far as it’s happy to: Some companies just won’t prioritise their initiatives, some companies will never address poor culture. That’s ok, company survival is not mandatory. 


Sometimes I wonder if my confirmation bias isn’t so strong that I see Agility everywhere?   Every time I think that a new trend like Innovation incubators or customer experience teams, or UX will clash against Agile, or be something totally different in terms of process, I find that they don’t, instead they compliment and build on Agile concepts and we can be friends.  Maybe what is emerging in the world is a prevalence of new ways that are based on common sense?


I find myself coming back to those mindset attributes that served us so well at the turn of the century, “The Simplest thing that could possibly work”, a rejection of wasteful work, smallness and breaking work down, trying experiments and testing the results, ruthless prioritisation, serving the customer with early delivery of value and teamwork and collaboration.  These are the principles based at the core of Agile that remain my true Norths to this day.  To me, it’s always been, just logical. 

Alexandra Stokes