Schlagwort-Archive: Agility

The Alpha and Omega of Agility

When people and their collaboration become more important and results count increasingly and customers are tighter involved and the flexible reaction to changes determines the work, then we speak of agility. Everything is about the involved parties and, above all, the working group who takes self-determined care of tasks, which can neither be extrapolated from the past into the future nor pragmatically predicted in advance. A look at the Agilemma has shown that the new conditions are pulling the nerves of the managers – although they have the key to successful actions – the alpha and omega of agility.

It’s all about activating employees. For this reason, managers in an agile environment, actually not just there, need to consider the following points.

  • Micro management
    Once the boss is the best employee, it will be difficult. Micromanagers are busy taking care of the smallest details and reworking all the results of the employees. Managers who cannot let go are a serious obstacle as soon as employees are expected to act independently.
    The autonomy of the agile teams is unimpeachable.
  • Options
    In order to obtain viable solutions, the working groups need various options for action. On the one hand, the requirements determine the choices. On the other hand, the solutions need sufficient means for implementation. The provision of resources is one of the most fundamental tasks of a manager.
    The responsibility of the team is the best regulator against extravagance.
  • Transparency
    To be effective, actors need as much information as possible about stakeholders, the environment, the capabilities of participants and the beliefs that drive all. The decision-makers do not have to provide the figures, data and facts, but do have to provide sufficient opportunities to become adequately informed.
    Borderless data flow is an important prerequisite for agile work.
  • Impetus
    The inner drive of the team members is the fuel, which keeps the zest in the iterations of the project. Everything that hinders the momentum belongs to the alpha and omega of agility. The managers have the task to do everything they can to ensure that stronger performance is achieved and that everybody deals better with failures
    Capable bosses master the art of awakening intrinsic motivation.
  • Variety
    Complex tasks can only be implemented with even more complex means. For this reason, a wide range of characters, solutions and activities is indispensable. To ensure that diversity is not disturbed, all forms of nepotism must be avoided, since this generates envy and resentment, which ultimately results in poorer performance.
    Anything that increases diversity is indispensable.
  • Aim
    In the absence of clear objectives, the rough direction and the emotionally charged target horizon are the most efficacious description of the intention of the decision makers. If the undertakings of the bosses are based on the available resources and offers the team a loose network of people, and if additionally it becomes possible to draw ideas from coincidences and mistakes, and the efforts are limited to what one is prepared to lose, than the intention has good chances to deliver results.
    The coherent aim is the fuzzy vision.
  • Team
    Internal and external interdisciplinary partnerships are essential for an effective team. Given the different origins of those involved, it is essential to create an encouraging sense of belonging. Decision-makers must ensure that appropriate team-building activities are carried out.
    Here applies – Together Everyone Achieves More
  • Individuals
    The team hopefully consists of various characters that complement each other. Each team member should have a strong self-confidence and assertiveness in order to enrich the team in its capacity. The decision makers should resist the impulse to recruit teams from their old boy network, as this only causes discomfort in the team.
    The team is more than the sum of the members.
  • Orientation
    Independent of the agile approach applied, the decision-makers must in particular ensure that there are clear target visions by which the employees recognize the direction. In the absence of reliable foresight, it is not a matter of tough specifications, but of awakening yearnings.
    The team needs the fuzzy vision in order to have orientation.
  • Need
    The advantages arise on the way to the goal, which develops only in the course of the iterations. In contrast to classic projects, which create in advance an elaborate business case that promises great benefits in order to get the budget to start, in an agile environment small steps create small increments that can only be evaluated at the end.
    Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves.

Bottom line: For a long time, „classical“ organizations with business processes and projects have given their business the finishing touches. After years, this has led today to insufficient capacities being available for the next round of transformation, the Digitization. Therefore they want to use agile work styles. For many managers, this creates the Agilemma. Besides the required mindset it is necessary to master the alpha and omega of agility – the MOTIVATION of the employees in the agile teams.

P.S .: It takes a lot of time and energy to gain the trust of the parties concerned, but only a blink of an eye to destroy everything with a disrespectful, degrading and unfair leadership style.

Agilemma – Spirits that I’ve cited, my commands ignore

Even if you fasten your seat belt, close the door and place a group of doorwomen in front of the office, as a manager you cannot hide from the demands of the VUCA world. The speed at which you have to react and the amount of skills required no longer allow us to rely on the rigid frameworks of the past. If even the American military sets up its troops with a new managing style, it should become clear to the last one that the time has come for new leadership styles. Since the solution is different for everyone, we have to design our own approach. At the same time, we run the risk of becoming sorcerer’s apprentices and being overrun by the released forces. – Spirits that I’ve cited, my commands ignore.

There are three aspects that tear you apart as a leader and give rise to the fear that you will lose control forever, once you have opened the floodgates.

  • New concepts
    What does it take to let go and engage in spontaneous improvisations that lead to a convincing result done by the self-organized participants? So far, everyone’s commitment has been crushed by distributing tasks, competence and responsibility on different shoulders. The greatest effect is achieved when everything is in one hand and the group takes responsibility for the result. People do not only spare the unproductive time of detailed planning, the slowing down of colleagues due to excessive control or the relief that is created by assigning blame to others. Those who do not drive these changes forward will be driven by the changes – now, or perhaps not before tomorrow.
  • Different leadership styles
    The troops stand no longer in line and follow orders. They have their own ideas and conceptions which they want to implement. The competition stops taking place between the own team mates but with other groups. In the future the individual destiny will depend on the fate of the whole team. This means for the manager that the organization is no longer developed by designing the positions and regularly control the behavior of the employees. The boss is now a coach, fostering his employees as an available contact person and solving the insolvable issues. The group is promoted as a whole, learns together and shares the joy and sorrow of the outcomes. If you don’t get involved, you lose the loyalty of your employees and thus your purpose as a manager.
  • Value-based governance
    In the past nothing functioned without governance and in groups it will never work without it. The personal commitment is the main reason for the willingness of the employees to get involved. The laws, standards and guidelines are the regulations that you HAVE to follow – otherwise you will receive more or less defined sanctions. In the end, this leads to doing things right – especially in the economic sense. This type of governance is exacerbated by filtered information, whose credo is shaped by „knowledge is power“ – it is not entirely wrong to either speak of censorship. The new approach focuses on doing the right thing out of inner conviction. The fuel is not the fear of punishment, but the intrinsic commitment to your task. This requires information distributors, who keep the involved people up to date. Those who cannot apply this value-based management are crushed by the old rules and eventually become obsolete.

This does not mean that doors and ways are opened to anarchy. It is about giving the team, and thus each individual employee, the freedom to achieve more with the existing strengths, instead of exhausting oneself with senseless and futile (self-) limitations.

Bottom line: The master of these magical powers is not the sorcerer’s apprentice, but the master. The loss of control of the trainee comes from the fact that he did not practice enough yet. That is why he formulates a bit early:

Bubble! Bubble!
Some route,
that, for the purpose,
water flows
and with a rich, full flood
to pour to the bath.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

without having the capability to reverse the command. One or the other can certainly imagine the helplessness of the sorcerer’s apprentice. All concerned people are still integrated into the old structures. At the same time, many recognize the opportunities, but do not want to get into the situation of the sorcerer’s apprentice. For this reason, you should pro-actively take care of the new approaches of agility. In delimited special operation zones, which are exempt from the old rules, these new concepts, different management styles and value-based governance can be practiced by everybody. The Agilemma will slowly dissolve that way and the spirits that one has cited, you no longer want to get rid of, but to use it in growing circles.

Agile players – people with special qualities

The roles within the scope of agility are Product owner, Scrum master and Development team. The team is not further described, but it often consists of roles like analysts, developers, testers and users, who work closely together. The effectiveness of the team comes from the fact that it consists of less than 7plusminus2 members. The special characteristics of those players are usually not further clarified. And this, although those agile players do the real work and have to be people with special qualities.

Besides the professional expertise and skills, the employees need additional capabilities. Agility gets its advantages from the concentration of the resources to the essentials, the ability to act flexibly, to orientate oneself towards the customer and the results as well as, above all, to decide self-determined. In order to affect, the players need special characteristics.

  • Comprehension
    So that the employees can keep up, they need a fast, intuitive perception. The short cycles of the work packages do not allow lengthy studies. It is about quickly understanding the circumstances and the relationships and to transfer them into solutions. This is not only a matter of technical aspects, but also the cooperation between the involved parties and their personal mood. Comprehension needs trust into the gut feeling.
  • Anticipation
    A sprint is the agile development cycle that takes two to four weeks and creates functioning partial solutions. It requires not only the understanding of the current situation, but also the anticipation of possible future circumstances. The corresponding trend signals can be derived from trend research or from a realistic assessment of the product life cycles. The better you adjust to future difficulties, the faster a measure has an effect. This anticipation becomes possible with the ability to imagine the future subjectively without holding on objective arguments.
  • Responsiveness
    In an agile environment, driven by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), the basic conditions change rapidly. So that the employees are able to react to the environmental causes at the right moment, they need the ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions. This requires self-confidence and courage in order to dare in the respective situation to act quickly – without the safety net of formal regulations that remove the responsibility for their actions.
  • Adaptability
    As soon as the circumstances are changing, the existing approaches are becoming obsolete. The insistence on the current approach runs counter to the new conditions. The ability to adapt facilitates the players to let go the previous solutions in favor of new, better-fitting ones. The art is to know when the right moment has come to change the approach. To overcome the current standpoint, it helps to be aware that there are always at least three solutions for a task.
  • Self propulsion / discipline
    To make agility work at all, the players need an inner motive that keeps them moving. Set-up times, dead times and down times are influenced by the individual employees. Central control can not accomplish this. Therefore you need employees who are entrepreneurs. They act as if it were their own company – 24/7. If this momentum is kept continuously, the right activities are carried out appropriately and reliably. This drive is controlled by every employee. In the best case, these forces can be released by appropriate work conditions (e.g. flexible working hours, a pleasant workplace, and no disturbing influences).

Bottom line: Managers are focused on the Product Owner and Scrum Master. But the actual work is done by the development team. The management of the heterogeneous team members is not further described and lies in the hands of the Scrum Masters. He keeps the team together, keeps the momentum and takes care of problems. But to really ensure agility the team members need a quick comprehension, an early anticipation of changing conditions, quick reaction and adaptive abilities as well as a disciplined self-motivation. In the long run the agile organization only functions, if the agile players are people with special characteristics.

Agility does not tolerate a bonsai style

Bonsai is the art of influencing the growth of trees in such a way that the trees have a beautiful growth habit through artistic designing, but kept small in pots by regular cuts. The result is a large variety of original, apparently wild trees. In nature these trees would grow into the sky. A similar approach has evolved within enterprises. Bonsai style is the art of keeping employees small. This micro management affects the employee activities, like the scissors on the growth of trees. Agility that depends on pro-activity, initiative and flexibility of the people, cannot tolerate bonsai style.

What defines the bonsai style that undermines agility?

  • More criticism than praise
    Representatives of the bonsai style have the tendency to nip the however small commitment of employees in the bud by caviling incessantly. It makes no difference, whether the objections are justified or not. The whole is intensified by the absence of praise. In an agile world such leader could not take a stand, since nobody would follow them.
  • Devalue results with formalities
    The agile employees are driven people of their own aspiration. The attention is limited to the resolution. This leads to the fact that aspects that do not have much to do with the solution are faded out as of minor importance. Does the tie fit? Did you use the official forms? Is the Font correct? The result consists of eighty-percent problem solution. The bad evaluation of the formalities completely misses the goal and tramples all over the tender seedling of the employee commitment.
  • Consistently pulling the superior joker
    After many years of the development, the learning organization, the employee participation, and the teambuilding with their standards, evaluations and decisions from above, the power structures are still in place. Now those, who came to their limits, expect a debureaucratization and the utilization of the inherent employee energy of wanting to create something. However, if no one comes forward voluntarily, the volunteers are determined. If nobody delivers what the superiors expect, the employees get their result adapted by micro management. For safeguarding the business, the hierarchical structures are kept besides the agile ones.
  • Disparaged in the plenum
    A very effective approach, in order to keep the employees small, are offending comments in the public. Devaluing remarks on the personal work style, on small mistakes in the argumentation or on the editing, guarantee that the employees lose their face. The anticipatory commitment of the agile employee is then no longer probable.
  • Micro management
    The always not available, but obsessed with details 24/7 micro managers are actually their best agile employees. Their commitment always is at maximum. They worry about everything and they are decisive. Unfortunately they don’t have the time to consider, because they have incessantly tasks, which they obviously have to worry about. Since everything excites their attention, they cannot manage to get used to the work and contribute thereby nothing. Understandably, they cannot accomplish their actual function. Micro management is one of the largest hurdles on the way to the agility.
  • Missing covering
    The attitude to correct at any time each detail at discretion leads to the fact that the employees are quickly alone without covering, exposed to the problem in case of crisis. In order to be able to act agilely, they need however the trust from above that their actions always take place in the interest of the larger whole. Where a lot of things happen, there happen also many errors. Error tolerance is an approach, to provide good covering. In the context of agility a remaining leadership task is the boundless support and employee shielding, when they process the topics self-organized.
  • Rule one and two
    Apart from the micro management the largest agility killers are the rules of power. Rule 1: The boss is always right. Rule 2: If he is not right, then automatically rule 1 is valid. Thereby the budding initiative has no chance to prove itself on a long-term basis and to develop an effective solution.

Bottom line: As long as the old approaches for the company design remain unchanged, like the hierarchical structure, the chain of command, or the superior joker, the associated disadvantages also remain. The generous authorization of the employees with sufficient resources, powers and support is crucial for exhausting the advantages of agile approaches. Bonsai style prevents thereby the desired effects since an employee initiative nipped in the bud cannot flourish.

The agility of the elders

Thinking about agility, we have in mind the everyday life of hundred-year old people, who live their life with good conditions. Or the Tai Chi master, who still makes his exercises later in life. Or the entrepreneur, who leads his enterprise far beyond the age of retirement. Or the concierge, who reads any desires from your lips for decades and does not feel too important to fulfil some errands by himself. Often older people are described as agile, when they keep certain fitness. Even enterprises want to become more and more agile. Can they learn anything from the agility of the elders?

Agility in business is above all defined by the agile manifesto.  Attentive readers recognize that the manifesto refers to software development. However, outside of the IT-department other basic conditions are valid – less development, more routine, more complex relationships. And nevertheless many new approaches get the new adjective agile – agile project management, agile organization, agile product development, agile HR development.

Young Start-ups are by nature dynamic. They act without the burden of over time developed structures and formalisms. Decisions are made, where the energy is and facts are created. Established organizations want to go back to the early years, when they engaged for the whole without bureaucracy – of course with their long-standing experience. What can these enterprises learn from the elderly?

  • The remaining abilities
    The craft to react in the existing context swift and clever makes the difference – try new things, question existing things, develop energy from within. The tayloristic task arrangement makes it no longer possible to become active outside of your own scope of responsibility. Enterprises want to have committed entrepreneurship and need to become agile for it.
  • The sprightly constitution
    After the purposefully created areas produce new rules, forms and procedures without interruption, without ever to abolishing outdated ones, the enterprises are at risk to become senile. The existing rules are like chunky knight armor with no elbow room. Debureaucratization fails because of the bureaucracy. One cannot negotiate with the frogs about the drainage of their pond. That way enterprises hinder themselves. They have to find open forms of regulations, e.g. value-based governance.
  • The robust structure
    The robustness can be seen in how resistant and steady the involved people are. Difficulties of the business tasks can be mastered safer, if you are well-trained and wiry. In order to do the right things right, the structures have to follow the results and the customers – and being adjusted again and again.
  • The boundless enthusiasm
    Agile teams are euphorically at work and are always on fire for their topic. Passion is the best fuel for the own stimulus. Boundless joy of activity carries also those away, who do not have much momentum at the time. This positive energy cannot be ordered. For this purpose adequate basic conditions have to be created and must leave the involved people room for decisions – for example temporal self-determination and functional participation.

The way to agility crosses the elements that let somebody normally become senile – rheumatoid structures, stubborn approaches, limited perception, and lost mobility. Disturbing are age-related bad habits – missing error tolerance, expected priority for elders and blunt compliance. In the interest of a lasting fitness of the enterprise the decision makers must dissolve the calcification in their areas, since otherwise it can come to lethal apoplexies, due to organizational thromboses.

Bottom line: As soon as a certain age is reached, also enterprises must worry about their fitness. Agility provides potentials. It is important to receive or even re-activate the survival abilities to detoxify out-of-date regulations, to make the structures resilient and to promote a positive mood among all involved people. That way agility becomes the way out of stagnation. That is, what enterprises can learn from the agility of the elders.

Becoming agile! But how?

After years of productivity increase through standardization, we now arrived in a dead end. The formal requirements pollute the actual work more and more. The creation of a plan became the central task of project management. Thus, the fulfillment of the standards increases the work load. The introduction of agile actions promises a way out. Based on the agile manifesto work is deregulated. The following values put the emphasis on the left side of the table, even if the right side remains important.

Individuals and interactions
Working solutions
Customer collaboration
Responding to change


processes and tools
comprehensive documentation
contract negotiation
following a plan

Most people already understood the need of dusting off the currently overwhelming formal requirements. We will become more agile. But how?


Let’s look at four alternative ways.

  1. Revolutionary
    Either one of the other is carried away by the conclusive perspective. These zealots dream about the possibility of introducing the agile values by shifting a lever from today to tomorrow. Since in a running company initiatives are continuously accomplished and the employees are not able to simply change their work style, this approach creates stress and a high risk for the fulfillment of the initiatives. Eventually the current and newly started projects are shaken by incompetency. They fail thereby.
  2. Evolutionary
    Less decisive people desire a smooth transition from classical to agile methods. However, employees work in different projects. If one takes place in a classical and the other in an agile way, the load of the change has the individual employee. Beyond that, the responsible people of the overall portfolio can only manage parts, since agile projects do not provide the relevant information any longer due to a lack of an appropriate planning. To what extent agility could be slowly implemented that way remains to be seen.
  3. Need orientation
    Pragmatics expect the possibility to install the one or the other procedure punctually, the way it appears most useful. Individual building blocks of a venture are selected for using agile mechanisms. A team of agile experts could take care of these tasks and exploit the advantages in the context of classical projects. The challenge is the interface to the classical activities and their bureaucratic needs – the clear direction, specific components and results.
  4. Separatist
    Some enterprises create a parallel playing field for the new ideas. On the one side projects are classically completed and on the other side accomplished agilely. In the long run the better one may win. Those parallel universes mean to the employees that sometimes they are included in the classical, bureaucratic environment and sometimes they have to cooperate agilely. The good news is that the employees can participate easily in the agile world. To what extent the classical projects are thereby contaminated in the short and medium term should be observed.

Bottom line: The introduction of agility is an extensive cut into the established practices of an enterprise. The roles of the employees, the reporting duty and the planning of individual and cross-functional projects are changed in the core – off taut clarity, towards flexible, trustfully cooperation. The solution is again the focal point of work, any more the formal administration. No matter how you decide, you should make clear, how to cooperate as well as to provide corresponding training courses for the employees.