Modern agile means doing things very differently than ten years ago

Agile has been with us for more than ten years. At its core, it relies heavily on adaptiveness. So why are so many organizations still trying to implement agile the way it was done ten years ago?

Karoliina Luoto

Karoliina Luoto

I called agile Coach and Consultant at Codento Oy Karoliina Luoto. To Karoliina, the state of agile proves what change and leadership professionals have known for a long time - that adaptation to change and knowledge was possibly the only truly universal value in original agile.

In this article, I will share Karoliina’s experiences helping organizations implement modern agile.  

Modern agile versus old agile

Old agile had the unfortunate side effect of quite often resulting in bloated processes, which is something you would expect from Waterfall management with its top-down approach, but not from agile.

Karoliina isn’t really surprised at the development we’ve seen over the last few years.

“When a work methodology ages, it tends to get embedded with dogma and practices for the sake of practices. In old agile, this meant an unnecessary attributing of roles, responsibilities and anointed practices that organizations ended up doing. It was, after all, how agile should be done, right?”

By and large, modern agile is redirecting focus towards the mindset and principles, rather than the processes. Modern agile doesn’t have rules - only principles that are intentionally broad since every organization is different. And just as a Waterfall approach looks different from organization to organization, so does an agile one.

The principles of modern agile  

Just as the original agile manifesto, modern agile consists of four principles. Karoliina explains how at Codento they usually connect three hands-on approaches or ways for organizations to work with each of the four principles:

“It can be a challenge for organizations to understand exactly how they can work with these principles. Hands-on approaches for each principle is vital. Otherwise, they might just end up as a pretty cartwheel on the desktop or perhaps even a poster on the office wall. Very nice to look at, but that’s it!”

1. Make People Awesome

Making people awesome is not just about giving them tools that work and ignore most of everything else, as was too often the case with old agile. Rather, it is about continous sharing and coaching:

“I can’t overstate the importance of lean objectives for this. Because it’s very hard to learn continuously if you can never say hey, this is done. Then ask; what is the outcome, and what are the insights?”

2. Deliver value Continuously

For delivering value continuously, Karoliina often advises the organization to choose Scrum and ideally also a mechanism for getting customer feedback.

“The application in itself really isn’t the crucial factor, but it’s usually an easy place for people and organizations to start. An agile approach can be difficult, but it should never be difficult to take the first step of the journey.”  

3. Make safety a Prerequisite

It seems fairly obvious but was actually often overlooked in agile just ten years ago. Every organization has to acknowledge that safety is important from both an employee, a customer, and a product viewpoint. To make all this comes together, Karoliina points to agile product leadership:

“It’s important to remember that modern agile doesn’t replace leadership. Ideally, it creates a new and actually easier form of it, where a leader is mainly responsible for prerequisites, not details”

4. Experiment and Larn Rapidly

For experimenting and rapid learning, Karoliina stresses the need for continuous improvement, which is easier said than done in most organizations:

“You can’t decide internally in the organization on your own when something is done, the users have to be the ones who tell you what is done. And getting better at answering the user needs is something you should be striving for and experimenting with all the time.”

A false sense of agile: Modernizing the organization  

In Karoliina’s experience, becoming agile actually begins with acknowledging that you are not:

“When I hear a manager say that oh yes, they are experimenting and learning all the time, I typically just ask WHEN and WHAT. What was the last experiment you did and when did you do it? Was it this month? This quarter?”

Another derailing mistake is trying to do everything at once, which can result in a shallow implementation of agile - that isn’t really agile at all. In most cases, it will turn out that the agile incentives you are trying to implement across the organization aren’t scalable, and you end up forcing people into a framework where they actually have no possibility for continuous development at all - yet alone making other people awesome.   

“Often what organizations do wrong, is that they are are trying to get agile, they are trying to put everything in place at once. But typically, an approach like that just proves that the organization hasn’t really gone agile at all. It just looks like it on the surface. When in reality, “the agility of the organization” has just become one more pointless step in a process. Modern agile is about the opposite; it’s about removing steps that aren’t doing anyone any good“  

If you are interested in learning more about agile and leadership in the modern workplace? Consider joining Karoliina for the Boye 18 conference in November.