Why Agile in 2021?

Why Agile in 2021?

In these uncertain times of COVID-19, fake news, uncertain employment, and other social and economic problems throughout the world, I believe that we need agile more than ever.

That said, I don’t think we need more frameworks, new buzz words, “agile” tools, or new certifications.

The Agile Manifesto for Software Development, which was created in February 2001, has celebrated its twentieth birthday. The question I have been hearing bandied about is, “Is agile still relevant in today’s world?”

Some will say that agile has failed and/or is no longer relevant. I don’t believe that this is the case. Are there agile transformations that have failed? Absolutely! The question that begs to be answered is what caused these failures? Was the failure due to a lack of experience with agile methodologies and tools, or was the failure due to the organization’s inability to accept the changes required for a successful transformation? There are many different scenarios that can cause an agile failure; and while it is essential that we understand what caused the failure, I would posit that instead of concentrating on the failure itself, we should redirect our attention to what was learned from these failures so we can improve.

Having been involved in the agile world since the beginning, I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no single framework that can successfully transform all companies. It is important to remember that companies are living breathing entities made up of many diverse groups and individuals. There really is no one size fits all framework in the transformation process. There also isn’t a single certification that will automatically make people become “agile” after a few hours of training; true transformations just don’t work that way.

Agile transformations are difficult: there is no doubt about it. And now, as we are fighting our way out of the Pandemic, we are seeing the world we once knew fading into the background. A new world is emerging on the horizon. The way we work, the way we meet up, the way we learn, the way we travel, the very fabric of our personal and work lives is being transformed. These changes are requiring companies and individuals to think outside the box simply in order to survive.

According to google, there have been approximately 2.79 million deaths and 127 million people have contracted COVID worldwide. Over 225 million jobs were lost worldwide in 2020 due to COVID (source:  https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/225-million-jobs-were-lost-worldwide-in-2020-thanks-to-the-pandemic-report-finds-1.5281152).

The world seems to be in a state of flux. According to some sources, we have moved from a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world to what is being called a BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear and Incomprehensible) world.  See https://stephangrabmeier.de/bani-versus-vuca/  and https://medium.com/@cascio/facing-the-age-of-chaos-b00687b1f51d for more information about BANI.

While I am not sure that I am in total agreement with anthropologist and futurist Jamais Cascio that we are now living in this rather dystopian BANI world, the framework does give us a lens through which to view the rapidly changing world in which we now live. Sometimes it looks like there is no end to this pandemic and the changes it has wrought; and while agile will certainly not eliminate COVID or lessen the effects of the pandemic, its mindset, values, processes, and practices can help us to adapt to the challenges we are facing thereby making us more resilient. This resilience will enable us to learn, to adapt, and to change.

In my opinion, all successful agile transformations, personal, team, and organizational, are built upon the firm foundation of the agile mindset which has at its core the values of honesty, integrity, openness, responsibility, commitment, and courage. Everything about agile should begin here.

Of course, it may begin here; but it doesn’t end here. Achieving an agile mindset takes time. There are no magic wands nor fairy dust that will speed up the process. Agile is collaborative. It’s all about learning and working together. This requires respect—both for yourself and for your team members. It also requires adaptability. Learning cycles are never easy—especially when they end in a supposed failure. Always remember, a failure that results in an improvement in the teams’ overall knowledge is not a bad thing in and of itself. In the end, its all about working together to deliver the best value possible to our customers. And at the end of the day, each team member being able to walk away knowing that they have worked together to do just that, well, that is what I believe agile success is all about.

It’s important to remember that an agile transformation always begins with the individual. Each person on a team is responsible for their own transformation. I have worked in the agile arena for many years, and I can honestly say that these transformations impact every area of the individual’s life—both at work and at home. And in today’s volatile job market, the skills one learns when going through an agile transformation are invaluable.

I learned this first-hand in July of 2020 when I was released from my corporate job. Typically, people that have experienced being released from their jobs have a hard time adjusting and moving on. My agile training and experience have bolstered my own strong values, work ethic, and mindset of continuous improvement. My ability to not view perceived failure as a bad thing but as a learning experience, has kept my motivational levels high.

I won’t say that it has been easy, but I will say that this past year has been one of the best learning experiences in my life. By using the correct agile practices and tools at the right time, I was able to get my business up and running quickly. These practices, identifying work that would bring value to my customers, breaking the work down into small consumable chunks, prioritizing the work based on the needs of the customer, and then delivering the work in a timely manner, as well as standing firm in the agile mindset and values, have enabled me to create and deliver training that is of the highest value to my customers.

While my world has definitely changed over this past year, being agile has enabled me to learn, to adapt, and to change; and this has made me more resilient—which has made all the difference both in my life and the life of my customers.

In the next article, I’ll talk about identifying when an agile transformation is the right choice for you, your team, and your organization.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

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