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Why Your Agile Strategy is Failing: Avoiding the One-Size-Fits-All Mentality

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In the first article of our Reinventing Agile sequence, we introduced five pitfalls that threaten every large-scale agile transition. In this instalment, we will zoom in on the one-size-fits-all mentality that often sabotages these transformations.

Remarkably, large-scale Agile transformations are often dogmatic waterfall projects implementing ‘the’ one-size-fits-all agile methodology. This approach negates the core of what Agile embodies: Quickly responding to change, delivering incremental work, and increasing autonomy by decentralising decision-making.

The problem with implementing a one-size-fits-all methodology is that it ignores differences in organisational goals, environment and culture and limits the ability of teams and departments to find out what works for them.

Agile can add value in almost any context, but rarely does so with the exact same appearance, for all organisational areas are facing different challenges.

Finding the balance between Agile costs and benefits

Organisational agility offers an array of benefits. Agile organisations often report greater overall revenue growth and lower overall costs. But let there be no mistake, Agile comes with a price.

While specific costs vary significantly between organisations, common costs are transition costs, increased risks, duplication of efforts, lesser economies of scale, cost of experimentation, and coordination expenses across a larger number of teams.

Mindfully implementing Agile will often result in a good return on investment, dogmatically ‘going all-in’ will rarely succeed. In those instances, linearly increasing Agile costs quickly catch up to Agile benefits, which are susceptible to the law of diminishing returns. As such, more agile is not always better agile. Each organisation, and even each team, has a sweet spot for how Agile they can – and should – be.

Choose the best Agile variant for your organisation

How Agile an organisation wants to be is not the only question an organisation should strive to answer. Which Agile do you want to be, is becoming an ever more relevant question. Even in the early days of Agile the choice was legion with scrum, Kanban, XP and later Devops, but with the development of scaling Agile frameworks, choices have increased.

Each framework has its merit. For example, SAFe works well in environments heavily focused on technology and software, but its rigidity hampers breakthrough innovation. Meanwhile, the Spotify model shines in environments with low interdependency but struggles to coordinate across multiple teams efficiently. And while LeSS and Scrum@Scale are great for innovation, they experience difficulties in settings with a low margin for error.

All frameworks, including the ones not mentioned, have a specific situation in which they work best. While selecting the framework best suited for an organisation’s context is a step in the right direction, it is hard to believe any framework will be sufficient straight out of the box. It is crucial to critically assess the framework and make adjustments to suit the organisation’s specific needs.

Different needs in different environments

Although connected in a value chain or working on the same corporate goals, every department and even every team within a single organisation has its own environment, needs, and specific challenges. An operations department at the value chain’s back-end might operate in an Agile context and organise continuous improvement. But it doesn’t necessarily innovate continuously or alters its proposition based on changing customer tastes. Nor does it offer ever-changing minimum viable products of its offering to the other parties in the value chain (e.g., no one wants Agile innovation in a nuclear reactor!).

But more importantly, the essential Agile values governing the whole value chain are aligned and part of a holistic interpretation of governance.

Different parts of the organisation will be an integral part of an integrated type of governance, but not every department will see Agile principles translated in the same appearance. When looking at the value chain with an Agile state of mind, it seems evident that the Agile practices of frequently testing assumptions with the customer, using minimum viable products, and continuously adapting to change have more impact at the front of the value chain.

That is not to say Agile cannot add value further along the value chain. Increased autonomy via decentralised decision-making, the cyclical nature of continuous improvements, and appropriate adoption to the mandate of the Agile teams at the front-end – all characteristics often associated with agile ways of working – will significantly improve the agility of the whole organisation.

However, it is vital for overhead departments and operations that service many value chains to have governance aligned to Agile without throwing specific values as scale, high quality, reproducibility, and stability out of the window.

In other words, dogmatically implementing the same approach in both the front and the back of the value chain will quickly lead to failure.

Implementing Agile successfully

A one-size-fits-all Agile approach strays from one of the critical Agile mindsets: The conviction that we live in a highly complex, quickly changing world. Our world is difficult, if not impossible, to plan. As such, we find out what works by experimenting in short cycles, evaluating what works and what doesn’t. Using frameworks and learning from other organisations to implement Agile is great, but gives rise to the danger of a one-size-fits-all mentality. This mentality doesn’t account for differences between organisations, nor within organisations, and often hinders the ability to inspect, learn and adapt.

The best way of implementing an Agile organisational philosophy is tailoring existing Agile approaches to your specific organisation, departments, and teams. This implementation is a long-term process of learning what works best and should encourage deviations between businesses entities in different circumstances. Carrying this idea too far, though, will quickly result in chaos and a lack of direction. Any Agile implementation is a delicate balancing act between the need for uniformity and the need for autonomy.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can adapt an Agile framework to your organisation’s needs, why not ask one of our experts? Contact us today to learn more about how you can strategically transform your value chain and reap the benefits of Agile at your firm.