It’s time we start to push ourselves to move beyond agile. Specifically in terms of the discussions we’re having and the lack of positive effects those discussions leads to. I see way too many conversations where the focus is centered on agile vs Agile, on what it is and isn’t, who is and who isn’t, and when someone is and isn’t agile. These conversations provide far more waste than value and increases ambiguity. This ambiguity leads to obscurity and incoherence, having negative influence on organisations. It reduces the number of people that gain enough insight into the core intended effects of agile principles and practices. Because of it we have reached a point where agile as a concept has lost its meaning.
It’s now time for us to shift the conversation away form agile and towards something far more useful. Namely how to build successful businesses in an uncertain and complex environment. Concretely we should pursue the exploration and adoption of specific concepts and corresponding principles & practices that are most effective in uncertainty and complexity. Through my experience I’ve identified some that are related, distinct and demonstrate their contextual effectiveness over others. In this particular post I will share three of them and include a brief overview.
I encourage everyone else to join, participate and share their experience with the intent to progress and learn. Particularly around these and other concepts and practices that you’ve found valuable. I know it will help me and I believe we and our organisations will improve from the conversations.
Complexity conscious organisations are able to identity and acknowledge when they are operating in a complex space. They are aware that in a complex environment causation is circular, where an action can be influenced by both its own outcome and a multitude of other factors. When exploring options relevant experience, cognitive diversity and curiosity is prioritised. Predicting an outcome with certainty is never the intent when doing so. Instead they are open to the element of surprise when pursuing any solution. They continuously remind themselves that an intervention may likely lead to results that wasn’t or couldn’t be thought of. Only in retrospect may the outcome appear evident. Complexity conscious organisations have realised that small safe to fail experiments are key to essential progress.
A few concrete practices complexity conscious organisations might use:
- They increase the organisation’s and employees understanding of what complexity means and how it affects different contexts.
- They explicitly acknowledge when they’re faced with a situation that is complex.
- People keep reminding themselves that causation cannot be fully mapped. They identify known factors that influence a specific outcome and use that as relevant data points.
- They use small safe to fail interventions to learn how to influence improvement in relevant areas.
- They retrospect individually and in group to increase learning.
Product lead organisations are focused on identifying business opportunities and achieving outcomes that meet the needs of their end users. They organise for products over projects, where a product is seen as a container of value. Additional value is delivered repeatedly to customers and users, without requiring the company to build something new every time. One clear example would be to look at Spotify. Initially they provided a service where you could search for music you wanted to listen to. Over time they have added additional value for users in the form of e.g. curated content, personalisation and group sessions.
Predicting what ultimately will satisfy, excite and engage millions of users throughout the world is among the most difficult task anyone can do. Product led organisations therefor are vision and hypothesis driven, explorative, data informed, validation seekers and customer curious. Their work consists of continuously figuring out what assumptions are accurate and inaccurate, placing small and large bets on solutions and reviewing if they lead to desired outcomes.
A few concrete practices product led organisations might use:
- Financial and user data and insights is used to form hypotheses about how to reach their gaols and vision.
- They engage in tactical, operational and strategic work and continuously evaluate to find the most relevant balance.
- They commit time to both delivery and discovery.
- A deliverable is not considered finished until its impact has been evaluated against its intended outcome.
- People are dedicated, usually Product Managers and one or a few product coaches, to work collaboratively towards becoming a product led company. This is commonly referred to as product operations.
Responsive organisations seek to validate their ideas as early as possible through their users point of view. They’ve realised that in most cases they will likely pick the wrong solution for a particular problem. The sooner they can confirm they are heading in the wrong direction the better. Problems are broken down to a level where key insights and learnings can be gained with daily to weekly intervals. They continuously ask themselves what the most simple way forward would be in any given context. When multiple options with seemingly equal potential are available they opt for implementing over analysing and debating. They avoid searching for optimal solutions and instead purposefully decide what makes most sense to optimise for and recognise known implications. With newly gained insights they revisit previous decisions and assumptions when relevant and revise when appropriate.
A few concrete practices responsive organisations might use:
- They are aware of how often they deliver value to users and actively work on increasing the frequency over time.
- They visualise their workflow to increase understanding of what’s causing delays.
- When relevant they use Design Sprints to practise the habit of quickly delivering solutions to users to gain key learnings.
- They have adopted a method to quantify their capacity that helps them to limit work in progress.