We Have to Move Beyond Agile For Flexible Organisations

Over the years I have been defining and championing Adaptive organisations, one question get raised over and over again - aren’t these just Agile organisations? This article outlines why they are not, indeed why Agile is just not sufficient for flexible organisations.

Why can’t Adaptive Organisations be Agile Organisations?

Despite being a very early adopter of Agile, and many years as an Agile coach is some of the largest Agile transformations in the world, there are a few reasons why I believe Agile doesn’t work well for an entire organisation.

Agile is defined in the context of software

Let’s start with the simplest issue with Agile organisations. I know many Agile specialists will be rolling their eyes with this one and calling me pedantic, but Agile is defined in the context of software in both the manifesto and supporting principles.

In numerous training courses I have created and/or delivered I explain that any technique, practice or framework is Agile if it adheres to the manifesto and principles of Agile. Like many others I have created innovation processes for clients based on Agile, and presented the manifesto on a slide with the line working software over comprehensive documentation” altered to refer to product’ rather than software’. This works for innovation as it and software development are both design activities, but I don’t claim that the innovation process is Agile - it may be based on’ or inspired by’ - because it does not adhere to the manifesto or principles.

I don’t know why Agile has not had its definition expanded to allow other design activities to be included, but it hasn’t. Therefore, strictly speaking, if you are not doing software you are not doing Agile.

Agile is a delivery method

Agile manifesto, principles, frameworks and practices are mainly concerned with delivery of product. They don’t spend much time dealing with the broader aspects of organisations such as career structures, reward, vision or business models.

Agile is applicable for certain types of work

As mentioned before, Agile is brilliant for the uncertainty of design-type work. The Cynefin framework, by Dave Snowden, defines five decision-making contexts - Complex, Complicated, Chaotic, Clear and Confused.

The Cynefin FrameworkThe Cynefin Framework

The Cynefin Framework www.cognitive-edge.com

Agile works best in Complex situations, but most organisations will also have work that is Complicated, Clear and even some Chaotic where non-Agile approaches may be more effective.

If an organisation wants to be able to handle work of different types, then it needs to deploy more approaches than only Agile.

Agile excludes other approaches and frameworks

By having a definition, Agile obviously excludes practices that don’t align to that definition - but what if those practices would be really useful? Surely it can’t be good to exclude beneficial practices simply because they don’t align to a definition? On the other hand, if Agile includes everything then it loses all meaning and is simply the buzz word in marketing material that it is already in danger of becoming.

If Adaptive is not Agile what is it?

Adaptive Organisations sense their environment and change their operating model to thrive in that environment; as the environment changes, the organisation changes to meet the new opportunities and challenges.

In volatile times it will be beneficial to exploit economies of flex, in more stable times it will be better to exploit economies of efficiency. Adaptive organisations are not tied to a particular way of generating value, to one delivery model; they are concerned in ensuring they are using the best delivery model, an appropriate business model, maintain a meaningful purpose, have empowered people and an effective sensing process appropriate to their environment.

Adaptive provides the framework inquisitive and flexible mindset, that creates a home for various delivery models as needed. Agile may be one of those delivery models.

Adaptive focuses on:

  • the mission as well as how it is delivered
  • the environment as well as the culture
  • business outcomes as well as product value
  • flexibility as well as efficiency
  • employees as well as customers
  • operating model as well as delivery model
Up next We’re all Autistic Now Adaptive Building Blocks - Cells
Latest posts Cells : How do they Work? Adaptive Building Blocks - Cells We Have to Move Beyond Agile For Flexible Organisations We’re all Autistic Now Mental Health and New Work Kwanzaa A Christmas Thought Of Marathons and Lockdowns A Time to Reflect Adaptive Leadership Mindset Problems with Mental Health Initiatives Operating in a Crisis Adaptive Organisations: Beyond Disruption Spectrum of Organisational Forms The Pagoda Model for Adaptive Organisations Organisational Slices The Metamorphosis of Management Surviving the Artificial Intelligence Revolution Adaptive Organisations: Levels of Adaptiveness Brace for Stormy Seas The Corporate Operating System Stack Mindsets Inuksuit