Saturday, February 21, 2015

Is there an End State of Agile

Agile is more as PRINCIPLES, not rules; Agile is more as a CULTURE than a process.

Many organizations are on the journey to applying Agile as a management discipline and practices. In an organization on a path to agility, is there an 'end state'? Or a state that is just right for that moment in time? How do you assess that there was no significant waste in the organizational form?

Agile is the PRINCIPLE to make continuous improvement. The idea of an "end state" typically carries with it the notion that there is no such a thing as "100% Agile." Continuous Improvement is one of the key practices for Agile teams so, by definition, there can't be anything like "100% Agile" nor the idea of an "end state." Someone once said, "If you can't show me that you're better this month than you were last month, don't tell me you're Agile."

Agile is a CULTURE, not a process. End-state thinking comes from confusing agile with some process or another. Agile is not SCRUM, it's not XP, it's a culture within which those processes can flourish. There can be an end state to learning a specific process, but self-improvement is a significant part of the underlying culture. That culture says if something doesn't work, you fix it, and no practices (agile or otherwise) works perfectly all the time. There's always room for improvement, so the process is constantly evolving.

The 'end state' is when the organization no longer needs to repeatedly invest in expensive improvement projects. Instead, the organization is able to constantly adapt to the changing environment. It's an ideal state, not necessarily achievable in perpetuity. The world keeps on turning and innovating around you and there will be new technologies, new approaches, new tools, new people that will have an impact on your team. Eventually, you are spending time "trimming and paring," finding small things to improve and adjusting to immediately current conditions, looking for new ways to "see waste" etc.; this becomes a steady state but dynamic equilibrium rather than "End State."

“Sufficient" agility is an obtainable state. Nevertheless, eliminating waste and continuously improving should always be ongoing objectives even if you obtain sufficient agility since this can be easily lost as there are so many variables in the business environment. The more you improve in one area the more you will expose weaknesses in others. You improve literally by iterations. The hard part is not getting content with where you are, and always looking to improve. Another challenge is maintaining this momentum if a project ends. Keeping the focus after the individuals have returned to the "line" management teams will be the biggest challenge.

There are different purposes to achieve Agile, perhaps one ought to ask how much of an “End State” is needed. If the goal is to comply with an "agile" framework, then the end state is compliance with the chosen framework. If the goal is to establish a culture of continual improvement, and "agile" is one element that contributes to that culture, then there is no end state. Every experience was different, some organizations were more mature in terms of how they made use of Agile as an organizing framework. The thing that the more agile teams had over the others was transparency. People clearly understood their role in the organization, their goals and what was expected of them.

Improvement is going from station to station. Agile never ends. The world is changing and continuous adaptation is the only way to survive in a competitive world. Agile is not just a business principle, but a life principle: stand still, fall behind is not what you want.


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