In this article we suggest to change the perspective on agility from a technical perspective to a more humanistic one, even a systemic one. First, the premises that we have taken into consideration when writing this article were the following:
agility is systemic, as it is a context in which we can talk about the Agile methodologies (Scrum, Kanban, XP) used in projects, but, at the same time, in which we can discuss the structure and the governance principles of organizations in an Agile manner, the Agile processes and the Agile positioning of the people that are a part of these projects and organizations;
We asked ourselves which are the environmental factors that have determined companies and even our society to overcome the logic of flexibility which characterizes the 80s and reflects upon the
agility" concept. In his book entitled, « The agile manager», Jérôme Barrand, professor and coordinator at the Institute of Organizational Agility, inside Grenoble Management School, identifies five characteristics of this context. The first characteristic is an increasing awareness of limited resources that has led to the implementation of some responsible environmental practices. The second characteristic is our world's complexity growth. We live in a world where the solutions that were valid yesterday are no longer valid today, a world where today's symptoms, even if resembling some symptoms of the past, do not require the same type of remedy, where the scientific management of work has few chances to prove itself efficient over the course of time. The third characteristic is individualism growth, which stimulates people's need of autonomy. This translates into less pyramidal organizations, which encourage creativity, which allow each person to manage a part of the system and which promote his/her own ideas. The fourth characteristic is the increasing uncertainty which is reflected in the life cycles of products and services, which are less and less predictable due to technological, economic, political or other sorts of disruptions which can interrupt, at any time, the foreseen stability. The fifth characteristic is interdependence. This leads to the division of "power" among several actors. The management cannot rely on the power of keeping the information to itself. On the contrary, today's trend is that of sharing the information in the fastest way possible, so that each person should adopt the adequate attitude, knowing the causes and consequences at any time. We live in the era of learning together, an era of ever-expanding organizations, including not only the shareholders and employees, but also the customers, partners and suppliers.
In this turbulent environment, behavioral agility proposes four core principles based on:
Management by meaning which guarantees the coherence of the system, durability and long lasting mobilization of those involved;
Anticipation to reduce uncertainty, to develop a fast action skill and to foresee the consequences of one's own actions and decisions;
Cooperation to share instead of dominate, to have satisfactory relations among all interlocutors and to work with but especially for others;
Innovation to constantly invent tomorrow's world and to satisfy every customer in unique manner, not more, not less and at the right moment.
These four principles reshape the way organizations define purpose. Therefore, externally, the organizations will propose a global offer (product/ service plus a series of intangible benefits and connected experiences) to satisfy as many customers as possible, backed by a customer-centric culture, so that every member of the organization should be aware that they do not work for themselves, but for the satisfaction of a third party. Internally, the organizations reduce the complexity so that everybody is part of a comprehensible system that generates less stress and stimulates the culture change in order to make change a second nature, instead of an internal battlefield.
Putting together all these principles, Jerome Barrand states that "agility is a continuous balance search between an active dimension (to do and to demonstrate our knowhow), a reactive dimension (to take advantage of the opportunities face with changes to gain loyalty) and a proactive dimension (to search innovation). Thus, agility cannot be a stable and final condition but rather a tendency, or a skill, a general frame that we maintain and feed constantly".
If we admit that agility is a posture, then what are the behavioral Agile practices that an organization should develop so that all people, absolutely all people, inside an organization should emulate?
First, the sharing of Agile values and the transparent exchange of information, of all information should be core values. It is about creating a culture in which the information is no longer a source of individual power, but the very opposite, a source of collective power. This one shall not be used to fuel power games, but to become a resource which allows fast actions. With this functioning model, everybody will be able to recognize the key information and will know what to do for the benefit of all people.
Second, trust should be an absolute value, an engine for participative management, in which every person is recognized as being able to bring a better solution to the problems of the organization. Trust brings about stress diminishment for everybody and enables all energies to be focused on team performance.
Thirdly, responsibility should be reflected in everyone's ability to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions. This means that everybody is responsible for a part of the system, for the relationship with the other parts, and is aware of the impact that their failure has on the system. Everybody gains personal success if they contribute towards the success of other people. A fourth agile behaviour is hybridization, which refers to an awareness regarding the fact that performance is the result of a diversity of profiles and points of view. A high homogeneity prevents different approaches and visions, does not allow the objective handling of problematic situations, consolidates already existing limitative convictions and beliefs. Finally yet importantly, we should mention the skills needed to make the change, even more than wanting the change. Change brings about the advantage of multiplying the experiences. Thus, we handle our own system better and we understand the others better. Most of the time, our adversity to change is due to our own blockages, even the fear to accept error. The previous thought-pattern taught us that error is shameful and that leaders and experts, especially, (the good ones, right?) do not make mistakes.
Agility proposes a different relationship with error, one in which the error is source of progress and a path for new opportunities.
As for us, having discovered these ideas, we have asked ourselves how easy it is to really adopt these behaviors and this Agile posture today.
How natural is it to communicate transparently, to inspire and give trust, to be responsible, given our history, and our society's patriarchal, authoritative and autistic dimensions? How natural is it to communicate transparently if we take into consideration the ecosystem of our society? How natural is it to communicate transparently, if we take responsibility for our own tasks? Can we to find a place that matches our potential? Can we encourage the uttering of different opinions and feel enriched when somebody bring forth a different idea than ours?
You will probably ask yourselves how we can evaluate the existence of such behaviors inside an organization or a team, besides their empirical existence.
Agile Profile® is a questionnaire that allows us to analyze to what extent a person or a team behaves according to the three dimensions of agility: cooperation, anticipation and innovation. It is a questionnaire developed by Jérôme Barrand, available on-line, in Romanian, easy to use, which represents an excellent start to ask ourselves about behavioral agility both at an individual and at a collective level.
To conclude, I would like to challenge you to become more Agile and thus, instead of endlessly doing change management, reinvent the way you actually DO management!
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