Agile dreamers vs. industry fake actors

I am always surprised to read postings where agile or “new work” approaches are opposed to other methods or organisational forms. Preferably in overstating phrases like “What the agile dreamers can’t imagine…” or “What will take the new-work generation by surprise…”. The other way round, of course, in articles that prophesy an almost certain collapse of a company in the case of hierarchical leadership cultures or patriarchal leadership figures. The intention here is to create frontiers that are not actually there.

I can tell you from my own experience with my PreSales team what immense potential Lean and Agile have. What a wonderful self-managed working environment is created. What great efficiency potential agile has. Measured in hard business figures, it means more revenue and profit. For me, agile working is an absolutely important factor for modern companies.

However, Agile is not a universal answer to all problems. No agile coach or trainer I know claims that either. Agile has the most potential in complex environments. For example, in the development of future technologies or business ideas. Even with problems whose cause is unknown for a long time because all the variables seem chaotic, an agile approach is more powerful than all linear analysis methods.

Nevertheless, if you have all the data under control and find yourself in complicated or simple areas, it is not worthwhile to tinker with Agile obsessively. Methods are most useful where they come from, here is a typical time evolution:

  1. agile development of a visionary product or service
  2. lean to adapt and optimise the efficiency of this product or service
  3. Six Sigma (or similar) to streamline the quality and cost of the mature product or service.

I hope we now agree that agile is not competing against other methods on the level of methods. Agile is a part of your portfolio if it is done well.

Now briefly about organisations. Companies that have almost completely embraced New Work are still scarce. If you are interested, Frederic Laloux tells you about some of them in his book “Reinventing Organizations”. In initial agile projects, trying things out and getting oriented is the crucial goal. It is not always about the way to a fully agile organisation. A good mix of existing culture with freedom for agile culture is the golden path.

How much agile freedom is needed can vary greatly. A company that is highly efficient in producing certain products may need less agile value creation producing new technologies in a highly competitive market.

Finally, let’s look at leadership style. A classic hierarchy in which superiors are always wiser than their subordinates. Who essentially define all the resolutions and are making all the decisions. Such social systems, according to Asby’s law, are disadvantaged. Whether such companies all end bad by this management style, is quite another question. As their competitor, I would use this disadvantage.

Yet as an example of a form of hierarchy that is not pervasive, let’s take patriarchal leaders who run their shop alone. Such people usually have a strong focus, i.e. promising ideas are sponsored with a lot of resources, projects with little outcome are quickly abandoned.

By the way, agile units are often found in these companies. A hierarchical system and agility are not contradictory. Whether you want to work there is a separate question entirely. For one thing is clear: whether your project is a promising idea and develops well is decided by the company boss alone.

In other words, there is no conflict here either. One thing that strikes me, however, is that employees who have understood agile and work in this spirit may also work in a traditional project. The reverse is not true. Agile work needs a lot of experience.

One article comes to mind which statistically proved it is a great advantage to have a classic elbow mentality if you want to get into (German) management. And the author believed that this evidence would sweep away the naïve dreams of New Work supporters.

Most people in the agile community are pretty skilled at assessing and dealing with such industry actors. Also, many can accept hybrid environments very well, because often the motivating force is to have a fulfilling workplace. As long as that’s there, it’s not a conflict.

I would love to see people on social media trying less to argue against each other. There is room for all concepts. Just pick and choose what suits you.