Forget Agile. The goal is agility.

Posted on May 15, 2023.
The stage and screen in the conference hall where I taught my workshop
The stage, screen and scene of my first public, full-day workshop in over 3 years.

Last week I was back in front of people teaching a full day workshop on OKRs. This was the first time in three and half years that I’d taught an in-person class. This used to be the norm for me. Since COVID, it’s become the exception. I was nervous as it had been while facilitating a room of 80 people. On top of that, this was a brand new workshop. I’d never taught it in person before. On top of THAT the room was filled with CEOs and executives from an industry with which I was not very familiar. 

Planning gives us a false sense of confidence

I made an outline and planned out the day. I created funny new slides and clear exercises. I even worked in a recent experience I’d had on the ski slopes as an opening story to connect with my audience. I plugged in my macbook and my trusted clicker. The projector beamed to life and the workshop was on! The opening lecture went well. The first exercise went well. As I headed into the second module I realized the content I’d created was too technical for the target audience. These were leaders. The next couple of exercises weren’t going to work.

At the break, I reassessed. I decided to hide the technical modules and replace them with two other modules I had from a different, online workshop I had delivered a few times. They’d never been delivered live but the content was far more relevant to this audience. I copied and pasted them into the keynote deck and pressed on. The instruction of the new exercise felt a little awkward and I could see some folks struggling to understand what I was trying to get them to do. I walked around the room as they worked and helped out each team that needed it. As the workshop went on it became even more evident to me that ditching the technical content in favor of a more strategic module, even one that had never been delivered in person before, was the right call. At the end of the day the reviews were overwhelmingly positive and I felt a tremendous amount of relief and pride. 

Changing course based on evidence

Throughout the first module, as I was teaching, it became clear that this was not a technical audience. This was evidence I was collecting in real time from my “market.” If I didn’t respond to what I was sensing the workshop was undoubtedly going to take a downward turn. Chucking the technical modules and replacing them with strategic ones was a course correction based on that evidence. I was being agile. Changing course based on evidence is the definition of agility. My goal wasn’t to deliver all the slides I’d prepared. My goal was to teach this specific audience the basics of OKRs. As it became clear that the goal was at risk, I adjusted the plan. 

The same quality has to be a part of your team and organization as you strive to compete and thrive in today’s markets. We will always make plans. And those plans will always be wrong to some extent. The sooner we can learn where we planned poorly, the sooner we can adjust the plan. Our goal isn’t to blindly follow a plan or even a process. Our goal is to deliver value to our customers. Each time we course correct we take incremental steps to delivering more value and learning a bit more. This is agility. It’s infinitely more important than Agile. 

Equally as important is to realize we’ve made some poor decisions and to welcome the opportunity to improve. I’d spent the better part of a week putting this workshop together. As soon as I realized part of it wasn’t going to work, I happily adjusted the plan. There’s no point in continuing to deliver something you know isn’t what your customers want. Embrace the insight you gain as you begin to put your ideas into the world and use them to adjust your plans to deliver better output to your customers. Being agile is far more valuable than doing Agile.