NEWSLETTER
Change management
Agile as a trend: The emperor’s new agility

Table of contents

Is agility just another trend for consultants to make money? What do we make of agile transformation? And what do the trend words agile methods mean?
agile leadership
agile culture?

Agile as a trend: The emperor’s new agility

Trends over the years

We have been in business as a berlin team for over 20 years. During this long period we were able to observe some pink animals being driven through human gatherings. It began in the 1990s with Total Quality Management, KAIZEN, KATA, the Balanced Scorecard and efficiency programs. Task Forces, Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, Team concepts and
value management
followed seamlessly, and in recent years every conceivable ONE initiatives – ONE Company, ONE IT – in conjunction with so-called TOMs– Target Operating Models and sustainability initiatives are always popular. Many of these approaches are, reasonably enough, still used today.

Trend Print

Astonishing: in 3-4 year cycles there are new trends that, as if guided by an invisible hand, are seen as salutary in many companies.

“What? You don’t do anything about lateral leadership and empowerment in your company?”, “So we now work with OKR…” – Objectives and Key Results.
Anyone who is unable to comment on the latest trend at management conferences quickly turns to the snacks or makes an urgent phone call.

All of these initiatives and methods still have their rightful place in the toolbox today, although the hype factor is much lower.

Trend agile transformation

Trend Agile

If you want to be hip and modern today, you have to be agile. For many people in my private environment, this term refers to older people who are still surprisingly agile and alert in relation to their age. Not so in strategy papers at the highest management level.

“We need to become more agile” is the exact phrase I’ve come across in almost every strategy paper I’ve seen in recent weeks. The concrete ideas behind this formulation differ widely in personal discussions. In a nutshell, it’s mostly about speed and the hope that “this agility will help us to become faster”. Less attention is paid to two key questions that, in my experience, are crucial to starting an agile transformation:

1. why become agile?

What is the sense/purpose behind the plan to become more agile?
A management team that is unable to provide employees with a coherent and credible answer to this question will understandably evoke memories of other initiatives and will not be very willing to participate. If we expect those around us to change their own personal behavior as massively as an agile transformation entails, it must be worthwhile for those involved. Money is not everything. There must be a purpose for which those involved are prepared to commit themselves more.


Does everyone really have to become agile? In some companies, agility seems to be the “holy grail”. You already feel uncool if you don’t stick colorful notes or work in Scrum. But is that really necessary? Are agile methods suitable for every activity? Watch our video to find out whether agility really always makes sense.

2 Why become agile?

Even if it seems meticulous: The question of
What for?
(purpose) should not be confused with the question of the
why?
(reason, occasion). By answering the
Why?
-question, we give our colleagues a reason why it is necessary to react, for example changed market, cost pressure, constantly changing customer requirements, etc.. This is all well and good, but it is not enough on its own. It creates a senseof urgency, but does not get colleagues out from behind their desks.

And why do you want to become agile?

So: What answer do you have to the question of why agility in your company? What purpose does the planned transformation serve? Generation Y assumes that you have a good answer to this…

 

Agility trend

Where does your organization stand today?

Before you start your agile transformation, first ask yourself

  • Where does our organization stand today?
  • What prerequisites do we need to embark on the journey towards agility?

Let’s not kid ourselves: Agility is also a money machine at the moment. So before you have employees certified as Scrum Masters(takes 3 days depending on the institute, costs approx. 500 euros, practical experience not necessary), you should know what your organization needs and what it can handle at the moment!

When I look at my collection of certificates, I should actually be floating above things with agile wisdom. But what is needed first is a precise understanding of what is going on in the organization rather than a product owner training program.

Before moving towards agility, analyze:

  • What are stabilizing elements in our company?
  • Which ones need to be preserved?
  • Where can and may I initiate change?
  • In which areas of the company is the culture ready for agile methods and frameworks?
  • Where are trust and appreciation (pre-)practiced?
  • Where is classic collaboration currently ensuring decisive success?

Or as a CEO recently told me: “For us, analysis comes before watering cans.” Unfortunately, the forms of employee surveys I am familiar with do not help here. Weeks, if not months, pass before they are analyzed and published. The prerequisites for introducing agile methods are discussed below.

 

Positive corporate culture

What are the benefits of agility?

So why this blog article? Agile transformations, in which the berliner team and I as a person are currently providing advice, are a matter close to our hearts!
In contrast to the trends and management methods mentioned at the beginning, we have seen fascinating projects in the last 5 years that are changing the DNA of companies of different sizes. We are simply amazed at the effects that can be achieved, the momentum that is created and how successes are shared and celebrated. To avoid looking “naked” like the emperor in Andersen’s fairy tale, we recommend asking the right questions at the outset and using terminology correctly in order to do something meaningful and credible rather than contemporary.

Terms on the topic of agility

In my view, it is helpful to clarify terms before we start talking to each other in order to accompany the company on its journey towards agility:

Agile transformation

Definition of agile transformation

We call the development from the status quo to an organization that can cope with new external and internal requirements agile transformation.

Today, companies operate in complex markets that are constantly changing in ever shorter cycles. In order to keep pace with this change, business models must be continuously scrutinized, structures adapted and products and services further developed. The faster and more agile companies can react here, the better they can survive in the VUCA world.

VUCA

What is VUCA? An acronym that describes our rapidly changing world.

V = volatile/ variable

U= uncertain/ uncertain

C= complex/ complex

A= ambiguous/ ambiguous

You can read more about this in our article VUCA: Change management in our VUCA world – the success factors

 

Agile culture

Agile culture

Describing a (corporate) culture is no easy task: Stereotypes easily arise and the core of what people experience as culture becomes blurred and loses its appeal.

Corporate culture and values

At berliner team, we like to approach such a description via values(shared values) that people in companies describe as formative and tangible, and principles, i.e. rules that guide action.

Values in agile companies

Values such as trust, courage and appreciation are certainly not new or innovative. However, in companies whose culture is described by employees as agile, feedback, constructive handling of mistakes and collaboration characterized by a high degree of personal responsibility are part of everyday business as a matter of course.

Hierarchy is rarely if ever experienced because it is simply seen as a hindrance. Self-organization is not to be equated with anarchy here. Instead of relying on fixed teams, employees meet in so-called circles or squads for a few weeks and then split up again. In this respect, the values mentioned are lived differently and credibly for everyone. After all, agile methods only work if the values cultivated in an organization also match them.

Agile theory needs agile practice!

What use is it for a company with zero fault tolerance to proclaim the agile principle ofgood-enough solutions? Nobody here will have the courage to try out something new with an open mind. Can managers in companies with a pronounced hierarchy take a step back enough to allow iterative teams to work? Companies that want to use agile methods should also take a critical look at their corporate culture.

Bricks, Bytes & Behavior

“Bricks, bytes & behavior, that’s what we have to take care of in our transformation, and at the same time.” This triad was given to me by a young company founder. Bricks: The working environment, the locations. Bytes, the technologies and methods. And last but not least, behavior, the behavior shown by those involved. At berliner team, we support cultural change on all three levels.

 

Agile methods

Agile methods / agile frameworks

Companies that want to survive in the changed macroeconomic context regularly ask themselves the question: “Are we still doing the right thing?”. They question their What?

The user is increasingly being considered before the product has been fully developed, as their perspective is the decisive one. The customer also sees interim results instead of just the finished product.

Question your methods!

In order to be able to react quickly, the question must be asked:

  • Do our methods still work?
  • How do we further develop products and services?
  • How do we develop entirely new ones in a volatile context?

So we question the
How?
. Traditional project management often reaches its limits here. If we want to react faster, more flexibly and more customer-oriented to changes in the VUCA world, we also need other methods!

The software industry: a role model for agility

Here we can learn from the software industry, which had to increase its reaction speed much earlier than other sectors. Learning here means: “How did they do it, and what about it suits us?”

At the method level, the answer is quite simple: you have worked with agile methods and frameworks. Some of them are very transferable to other industries, others are specifically suitable for software development.

 

Agility analysis

The basis: agile values

Based on fundamental values and principles that often run counter to those traditionally practiced, the introduction of agile methods can mean a quantum leap for the company. However, it should be borne in mind that without the underlying and practiced values and principles, comprehensive training to become a Scrum Master, for example, is a waste of money.

The context for the use of agile methods

“Let’s make this agile!” Often heard and laughed heartily. As described above, a context is needed in which the use of agile methods makes sense and is possible.

These and other questions need to be asked before the introduction of agile methods can generate added value for a company:

  • Why are we introducing agile methods?
  • What is purpose here?
  • Are we following a fashion, do we want to appear more attractive as an employer?
  • Or are we facing up to the changed reality and ready to question the truths of yesterday?
  • Do we really live values such as openness, trust, courage and personal responsibility?
  • Are a constructive error culture and working in iterative loops natural and practiced principles for us?

If these topics can only be found on the slides from the last management conference, pause before you proclaim agile transformation in the company in white sneakers.

 

Agile methods require discipline

You will probably encounter various dilemmas during the introduction: On the one hand, agile methods such as design thinking can only work if the group/company allows and even encourages a high degree of self-direction and autonomy. On the other hand, and this is often a major misunderstanding, a great deal of discipline is required when using such methods.

At the methodological level, agile does not mean “Let’s do this creatively and flexibly with lots of colorful post-its.” A brain dump session is not another form of brainstorming, although it is often used in this way, and a daily stand-up is not one of the usual morning meetings. Agile methods are more regulated in their pure form than many people realize. And that’s a good thing!

 

 

agile methods

The basics of agile methods/frameworks

There are now many agile methods that start at different points in the development process. However, they have clear similarities that relate to both agile product development and agile service development:

  1. User orientation

    They start with the user/customer and solve their problems. User orientation should not be confused with the old and good customer orientation. The user is already involved in the development of the product, sees interim results and provides feedback. In the old world, it would have been inconceivable to present the user with an intermediate result that was not fully developed: the customer was consulted in advance, and then the product was developed over a long period of time.

  2. Prototypes

    Agile methods and frameworks are designed for speed and short iterations and therefore work with prototypes. Only when it is clear how the target group will react to a product or service is it launched on the market.

  3. Iterative development

    Agile methods have a clear goal, but are geared towards the changing needs of the user. You approach the solution iteratively, i.e. in small steps that can be adapted if user needs change.

 

We dedicate separate articles to the individual agile method frameworks in our blog:

 

Agile leadership

Agile leadership

The term agile leadership naturally comes to mind, but as far as I know, it is not yet a firmly defined term. Derived from the agile manifesto in software development, there are so-called leadership principles that describe precisely enough what to look out for in an agile context. Leadership here also means self-leadership:

Leadership Principals

  1. Purpose

    “Engage and inspire people around bold and noble causes; not around short-term financial targets.”
    This is about the already repeatedly mentioned Why? – the sense that appeals to people and makes them think big.

  2. Values

    “Govern through shared values and soundjudgement; not through detailed rules and regulations.”
    To what extent are the agreed values credible and supported by everyone? As described above, a crucial basis.

  3. Transparency

    “Make information open for self-regulation, innovation, learning and control; donʼt restrict.”
    “If our company knew what it knows…”, a familiar dilemma: Who needs access to which information in order to be able to organize itself in a goal-oriented manner? How can we create transparency about the important issues without large mailing lists and PowerPoint presentations?

  4. Organization

    “Cultivate a strong sense of belonging and organize around accountable teams; avoid hierarchical control and bureaucracy.”
    Silo thinking thrives in organizations that like to derive decisions from organizational chart logic instead of letting people who are in contact with the user and the product make decisions. We at the berliner team recommend turning reporting lines into supporting lines. This is the only way to create solutions.

  5. Autonomy

    “Trust people with freedom to act; donʼt punish everyone if someone should abuse it.”
    Trust as a core value in the agile world. Even if people overshoot the mark: Have the courage to continue on the path instead of falling back into old patterns of control!

  6. Customers

    “Connect everyoneʼs work with customer needs; avoid conflicts of interest.”
    Does everyone in our company know what his/her contribution is to delighting the customer? Are our target agreements suitable for cooperation between company divisions, or is internal competition inevitable?

Agile management model

We can all sense the spirit behind these principles. I do not think it is necessary to describe a leadership model in detail down to the behavioral level. As a manager, you and all responsible managers in your company decide for yourself what behavior you would like to display in order to live by these principles.

 

We would be happy to advise you in relation to your company. We look forward to a personal exchange!

 

Further reading on the topic of agility

Would you like to read a little more about agility? – We have more articles for you here:

Agility: What makes an agile company? Definition & Backgrounds

Agility: Our company is becoming agile – where do we start?

Lateral leadership – tips for leadership without power

Agile product development: what is it and how does it work?

Agile tools, agile project management & agile leadership

 

 

The authors

Oliver_Grätsch_550x550px
Oliver Grätsch
Michelle 550
Michelle Templin
Christian_Grätsch_1_550x550px
Christian Grätsch
Matthias-Beikert-550-550
Matthias Beikert
Susanne_Grätsch_1_550x550px
Susanne Grätsch
Monika Bt 550x550
Monika Steininger
Kai_Hübner_550x550px
Kai Hübner
Philipp Andresen 500x550
Philipp Andresen
berliner_team_Isabell_1
Anna Isabell Arendt
Claudia_Schmidt_550x550px
Dr. Claudia Schmidt
Inga_Kühn_550x550px
Inga Kühn
BT_Web_Team_Knebel_550x550
Kassandra Knebel
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Claudia Lehmann
Komplettes Team

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