Agile isn’t new

It’s the instinctive way smart people go about delivering hard complicated stuff – and have for a long time.

I know, I know, the Agilists (my word for the cult-like followers of the doctrine of Agile) say it is the way and the truth.

They say it is new and innovative. But alas they are wrong. If you ask old-timers, they will tell you that before certification and accreditation, before PMBOK and Prince2, they employed various approaches now described as Agile. And projects had a great reputation, as the way to get things done that couldn’t get done in the ordinary course of operation.

Agile isn’t new – at it’s core, it’s the instinctive way smart people go about delivering hard complicated stuff.

Agile, as it’s now known, wasn’t invented in the ’90s or the 2000s. What happened then was that people decided to write down what they saw was working. Which was good. Then they took it the next step and codified it with scrums, sprints, epics, etc. and that was bad.

The very flexibility, agility, and dynamism they tried to explain and spread was damaged by the inflexibility people interpreted and applied. It did move the power though. In an inverse and strange way, it moved the power from the people wanting the outcome to the people creating it. You’ve probably heard conversations around ‘they’ll get it when we’re ready’.

The lesson is… don’t ever let doctrine and procedure get in the way of delivering.

Look beyond the doctrine. Look beyond the methods. Look beyond the tools. Look into what the outcome needs to be. Look into how these people work. Look into the relationships. Look into how to get this team (virtual, co-located, culturally, linguistically and skill-diverse) delivering.

Look inside the project, from the start, and organise for best performance. This is different. Simple but hard. It’s so much easier to believe there is a method, approach or language which alleviates the need for organising for performance. You can read more about this in my next post.

I know it’s radical. And not everyone can do it. But when it’s employed, the results are astounding and worthy of the challenges of innovation and transformation.

Let’s stop using 20th-century tools and approaches to deliver 21st-century outcomes. Unless, of course, your organisation cares more about being able to say “we’re Agile here” or “we’re a Prince2 shop” or “we only hire PMPs”. If you want that, it’s fine but…

If you want actual outcomes as projected (after all, that’s a project), the only smart path is that one enables these people to deliver that outcome.


Next post: Organising for performance