Agile/Scrum blog

The Agile Dream

Twan van de Waerdt Door: Twan van de Waerdt,  31-01-2013
Onderwerp: Agile Teams  

“If you can dream it, you can do it”
Walt Disney

Many times we’ve wondered, what is the most Agile company we know? Which company lives and breathes Agility? Which company can we set as an example for our customers and peers? The truth is, unfortunately, that to our knowledge, a 100% Agile company doesn’t exist (please leave a comment if you feel differently). After all, Agile is not an absolute end state. Yet, we decided to paint a visionary picture, our Agile Dream, using elements from organizations we’ve come across during our years of coaching experience, combined with examples we’ve heard of from colleagues, blogs and various other sources. Puzzle pieces of organizational characteristics that, when combined, would create the most Agile organization in the world.

A vision summarizes an organization's reason of existence in as few words as possible. We have selected three key elements we think should be part of the vision of our Agile Dream.

The first is genuine Customer and Employee delight: everyone involved with the organization should be so delighted that they would recommend its services and products to their family and friends. Customers should become fans, and are promoting your product. There should be no difference between customers and , employees. The best sales people an organization could have are your customers!

The most Agile company in the world should have a challenging and inspirational vision, something everyone involved in working with the company can contribute to, and should be proud of contributing to. Something that sets the bar high and challenges employees to perform exceptionally.

Take for instance the vision of Google: organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. That’s definitely not easy, but it surely is inspiring.

The final key aspect is that it should reflect the need for continuous improvement. Although it would be nice if Agile was an end state, the reality is that new insights will require continuous adaption to stay at the top of the game. And after all, this journey of continuous improvement is a sign of being Agile.

One of our customers has the saying: “Everyday a little bit better”

We have identified five different characteristics that should apply to the Agile Dream organization’s way of operating:


1.        Scrum throughout
The first characteristic is that every element of the organization works with the same heartbeat, i.e. Scrum is applied to every process and department in the organization. Everyone works in Sprints, forecasts their goals for a sprint and everybody joins the review and retrospective at the end to collaborate what was done (and what wasn’t) and how to inspect and adapt. The CEO also acts as a Chief Product Owner. Cross functional teams (for instance combining Finances with Marketing) work together on completing backlog items.

All time spend on activities not coming from a backlog is waste. Every employee who is not part of a team is a risk. All work done that is not shown in a sprint review is reducing transparency

2.        Continuous Integration
The second characteristic focuses on the production side of things. From concept to cash, all processes should be automated to the highest possible degree. In Software Development this requires an automated process of build test and deploy to production after check in. In other domains it means that work done integrates with the work from co-workers and directly delivers value for customers. A radical example of Continuous Integration is lean pub, an online service that allows authors to publish books while they are writing. Why should one wait to deliver value, get feedback, test idea’s and show progress?

3.        Team learning
The third characteristic is structural time and focus on team learning. This is something young Internet companies like Google are really good at, by providing all employees with 10-20% of their time to spend on projects they choose. This fosters creativity, company culture, and has led to great software such as Google Maps. Time should be reserved for employees to get together and learn from each other and express themselves, like a Community of Practice. Making mistakes shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing; making mistakes is natural, people should be encouraged to step out and experiment and learn from the mistakes they make.

Sports teams spend 80% of their time in practicing and 20% on matches. What’s the ratio in your company? Many of our clients have introduced the concept of Fedex day’s to facilitate team learning.

4.        Transparency
Another very important aspect is openness and transparency. Employees and customers have the right to know what and who exactly it is they are committing themselves to. A practical example of this is the Wall of Transparency in the Prowareness office. A number of things are listed here: salaries, people’s days off and personal goals, bonuses, team backlogs, the amount of information on the wall increases all the time. This creates a great deal of trust among each other and reduces all sorts of rumors and conflicts. Transparency is an prerequisite for selforganisation, how else could people know what to do next?

5.        Selforganisation
Teams should be able to work more or less independently, without much interference from management, if there’s even still a need for day-to-day management. When there is complete transparency, the goals for the teams should be clear, and there is a mutual feeling of responsibility towards fulfilling those goals. The desire to help each other accomplish those goals will take care of the rest. There are no personal targets, only team and organizational level targets. This requires a great deal of trust in the employees.

To give a practical example of this level of self regulation, at Prowareness there’s no longer a fixed upper limit of vacation off. Teams set goals and as long as those goals are met and the team is happy, you’re free to take as many days off as you please.

We feel that this list mentions some aspects of what we think is the most Agile organization possible. Please leave a comment if you have another example of what would make a company truly Agile.


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