#limits on agility

Limits to business agility

(There is also a Dutch version of this blog)

For every organisational change, the leaders are confronted with the limits the environment sets on the viability of their vision. This also applies to an agile change, and there are different ways of handling this. A most common strategy is the change agent, who sets requirements on the environment, for example by demanding executive support. If that succeeds, then it certainly helps the progress of the change. Often, however, it does not work, and the organisation falls back into the familiar old behaviour. For me, the announcement that the executive board has to have an agile mindset, when they don’t do what the change agent wants to, is not sufficient. The same is true of the grumbling that starts when team members do not take responsibility for the self-management in the team.

An important characteristic of the agile leader

One of the most important aspects of agile working for a leader is that you work with what is available, instead of what you need. In most cases, the management of the organisation sees agile as a solution to a problem. The same applies to self-steering teams; but when they do not deliver, then management will pull the plug, at the same time reverting back to the old-fashioned model of enlightened despotism. This has serious implications for every agile leader. I am now talking about the new role that IPMA has introduced, which requires some explaining as agile leaders are something different than people who ensure that scrums are held, or that we user non-violent communication. I shall attempt to explain this new role.

Minimal viable definition of agile leadership

A first minimal viable definition (MVD) of this new role: The agile leader bridges the gap between a old paradigm and the new one.

Currently, waterfall, command and obey, management and suchlike are part of the old paradigm. The scientific method, autonomy, self-steering and other principles now form part of the new paradigm. Possibly, in ten years’ time, everything that is now new will be considered old. The MVD for Agile Leadership is, therefore, separated from what we now think about what agile is. It is a leadership that bridges gaps. This has nothing to do with finding a hybrid solution; it is reconciliation between two apparently incompatible worlds. It is the solution to a non-existent duality. What does this mean in practice?

Why, in fact, do we want to be agile?

Why does a company want agile? Why business agility? In order to be able to adjust to the environment. In order to move with a changing market. In order to adjust to change.

If you want to be agile, you have to start somewhere. The one uses a big-bang approach and asks all managers to re-apply for their jobs, and the other does it step-by-step and starts with a few small teams. Yet another implements a scrum studio. In fact, it does not matter, but each one will, over time, come up against a boundary. There are limits to agility. The strange thing is that those on the other side of the gap are expected to adjust, and that, dear reader is not agile! The agile worker makes the adjustment, not the reverse. The agile mindset requires that you embrace change, also in your expectations. If an assumption is wrong, then you appreciate that and you adjust accordingly.

Agile’s greatest weakness

This is unpleasant and herein lies the greatest weakness of agile working, namely not being able to live with an environment, which does not move accordingly! Therefore we need a new role, and I am pleased that IPMA has accepted the challenge and is busy working out this role. There where agile has reached the limits, the agile leader takes it on! In previous, current and future blogs, I am attempting to philosophically justify this role, by sharing my thoughts out loud and looking for a logical story. In the coming weeks, I shall work out this role by researching which gaps the agile leader has to bridge.