Tech-only Agile? You’re going to fail.

Posted on February 8, 2017.

No more waiting! Sense & Respond is here and available. After two and a half years of work, Josh Seiden and I share our principles for the next century of work. Don’t wait. Grab a copy here and buy one for your boss too. I can’t wait to hear what you think. As Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup, said, Sense & Respond is “A crucial framework for the modern world of business.”

Hey folks –

A Google search for “agile software development” returns over 13 million results. An Amazon search on the same phrase returns nearly 2300 books. Clearly, there is no shortage of literature on how Agile should be implemented in your tech organization. For anyone who’s been working through an Agile transformation or is considering taking one on, this is the natural place to start. The bulk of the Agile canon will teach your teams to deliver higher quality code, faster. We’ve talked here before about how velocity of learning should trump velocity of delivery but this post isn’t about culture this time. Once your tech teams increase not only their time to market but also their expertise in learning, responding and working towards customer-centric outcomes they’ll find that the pace of work they desire is regularly hindered by the lack of agility in the company’s supporting disciplines.

Supporting disciplines are traditionally “non-tech” departments like Legal, Finance, HR, Risk, Marketing, et al. No work goes live without someone from each of these departments seeing it and in some cases, approving it. And so, if your Agile transformation doesn’t include these non-tech disciplines, you’re going to fail. Here’s why:

  1. You will iterate your way to an illegal product — Testing and learning is a great way to find something your customers love. If you work in any kind of a regulated space, however, the thing your customers love also has to be legal for you to provide. Finding out after 3 months of experimentation that you can’t ship due to legal issues is a recipe for waste and frustration. Your legal department has to be incorporated into your team’s Agile cadence. They need to be aware of what you’re learning and actively providing feedback on how to best leverage this new insight in a legally compliant way. There’s a bonus here too: your lawyers now know what new products are coming online and when allowing them to do their job faster and better. Win!
  2. You’ll have the wrong people on your teams — As ING recounts in their public case study in agility as scale, to build independent, empowered teams you need the right individuals on board. HR has to provide the same services they’ve always provided — hiring, professional development, performance management — but in ways that are responsive to the ongoing changes in the culture and work style of the organization. Hiring has to reflect the Agile mindset — one of curiosity, autonomy and a genuine desire to improve. Professional development courses must move beyond certification and strengthen teams’ agility by teaching new ways — tactical and social — to embody this mindset. Performance management is the incentive engine in your company. You can speak about the values and mindset you’d like to see in your folks all day long but if your teams get raises, bonuses and promotions based on a conflicting set of values enshrined in your review system, that’s what they’ll optimize their behavior to achieve.
  3. You’ll make poor investment decisions — The annual planning process is the antithesis to organizational agility. Most large companies have dedicated a “season” to this process. How is that agile? At its core, annual planning assumes we are making physical items in a factory where the cost of production, sale price and profit/loss numbers can be easily calculated. Regardless of the industry you’re in, if you are an organization of scale, or one that seeks to scale in the 21st century you are in the software business first. Making budgeting decisions for software is different explicitly because we are not a factory-based assembly line. We are building systems that expand and contract based on market feedback. It’s impossible to predict exactly what the software will need to do or how it should look a year in advance. Finance needs to rethink how they determine funding, plan for shorter cycles and provide a more real-time accounting of how the business should position its resources. The plus side? Software can deliver the necessary insight in real time to the Finance department so they can work this way. Again, win!

Agile tech teams are a good place to start but they don’t work in a vacuum. Any value your new-found tech agility generates will quickly be muted by the lack of it in other departments. Transformation can’t be a one-department effort. Like the collaboration required at the team level, org-level agility also requires cross-functional participation.

What have you seen work in your org? How do you work with these non-tech disciplines? Let me know.


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Book News

Sense & Respond is out! If you’ve pre-ordered you should have received a shipping notification. If you haven’t, today would be a good day to do so.

This book lays out, in a rich set of case studies, the principles for the next century of work. If you like the material in this newsletter, you’ll love the material in the book. Once you’ve had a chance to read it we’d be grateful for your reviews on Amazon.

Josh & I will be hitting the road to promote Sense & Respond in late March in Europe. We’ll be visiting Norway, Lisbon, London, Copenhagen and Madrid. If you’d like us to visit you, let us know.

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Upcoming Events

My NYC workshop with Jeff Patton sold out 2 weeks in advance. Thank you. These workshops will sell out as well. You should join one of these events soon:

Mountain View, CA — March 8, 2017–1 day Lean UX in the Enterprise Public Workshop (early bird price expires this week)

Los Angeles, CA — March 9, 2017–1 day Lean UX in the Enterprise Public Workshop (early bird price expires this week)

Pittsburgh, PA — March 14, 2017–1 day Lean UX in the Enterprise Public Workshop (early bird price expires this week)

Jersey City, NJ — April 6, 2017–1 day Lean UX in the Enterprise Public Workshop

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As always, if you want me to work directly with your company on training, coaching or workshops, don’t hesitate to reach out.

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