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Being Agile: It's a Voyage

25 January 2016

Mohammed Haji
Sabre Corporation

Today in the fast-changing IT world, we keep hearing that every other organization has turned Agile. Within a couple of weeks of transformation, companies say, "We are Agile."

Are we really Agile?

One of the first and the most important guiding principles of Agile is: Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.

Agile is a tool and means to achieve certain goals. It's not an end in itself. But in the midst of their Agile journey, organizations deviate from or forget the original Agile values and principles. They instead get stuck with only rules and rituals that become monotonous. As a result, employees lose interest – and can you blame them? After all, it's not the hammer's fault if you hold the wrong end.

Agile is a constant endeavor that works on the philosophy of shared common vision and a common belief system.

Below are some of pointers that I believe that are fundamental and can help organizations succeed with Agile:

Having a shared common vision

Can a country have two presidents? No. Similarly, employees in the organization cannot have different visions and goals. Though easier said than done, right from top (CEO) to the bottom (engineer), everyone should change and align their business goals toward one common objective: making their customers happy. Strategies need to be in place to develop that common vision and help the teams understand its importance.

Changing mindsets throughout the organization

It is not only the delivery teams that should work on changing their mindset to become Agile; all the lines of business and function groups need to undergo this transformation. Function groups such as portfolio management, program management, sales, and marketing should understand how Agile teams work (the priority of the customer and working to satisfy them). If, say, the Scrum framework is adopted by the organization at a global level, then employees in different function groups should be trained in Agile values and principles so they can understand how Scrum teams are delivering. They can adjust their way of working accordingly, by acting as a liaison between Scrum teams and the business stakeholders. If business doesn't understand how delivery teams are working, they can never set their backlog priorities appropriately and get their product released on time.

Identifying or creating leaders in the organization

Good leaders are crucial for the agility of the organization, because having team members with entrepreneurial and leadership qualities helps the team with quick decision making. Managers manage, but leaders inspire. There are two ways a manager can make teams work:
  • By building sincere and trustful relationships
  • By command and control and use of force
The former is achieved by leaders who show the way and promote teamwork. They possess true leadership qualities – honesty, confidence, communication skills, empathy, intuition, encouragement, and optimism. It is under such leaders that teams tend to self-organize and manage themselves. The latter behavior, command and control, leads to fear, confusion, and loss of productivity among the teams and should be avoided.

Leadership is all about influence, nothing more or less. Organizations should follow a critical recruitment process that ensures that the people who are hired possess these leadership qualities. This will ensure that new employees will not stick with the traditional way of managing teams but will shift their focus toward leading. They would be the role models for the team.


Say no to micromanagement

Let the team be allowed to manage itself rather than any one individual taking charge and controlling the tasks. When management wants constant updates, lengthy status reports, unnecessary emails and escalations, and unnecessary meetings, the consequences to the team are counterproductive. Leaders should not allow such behavior and should take actions in the best interest of the team and the product.


Diversity is a mandate

It is important that organizations and teams have diversity – people of different cultures, age, and gender, with different skills and talents. It is essential to keep this diversity intact during the Agile journey. Not having diverse team can lead to group thinking. Group thinking occurs when team members get along so well, due to a similar culture or language or the like, that they never raise their voices against each other, even when they disagree, because they want to avoid fights and conflict. They believe that agreement and harmony constitute collaboration, and this is dangerous for an Agile organization. Rather, leaders should focus more on Scrum values (focus, openness, respect, courage, and commitment) and help bridge any gaps.

Incentive and motivation

Money may be a motivator, but it's not the only one. The most effective way to motivate positive work behavior is often paying special attention to how employees feel about the work itself. Employees are also motivated by autonomy. If we need to incentivize, this should be based not on individuals but on the team:
  • For the ideas collaborative teams generate and build
  • For the outside-the-box thinking they bring to the table
  • For total value delivered as a team with respect to other teams

Avoid office politics

Politics of any kind or in any form from the employees, be it backbiting, slandering, or gossiping, is highly devastating and hurts the firm in multiple ways. Organization should have stringent policies and measures in place to handle situations arising out of such behavior.

Strong belief

Belief is the essence of any action in life. You cannot move an inch if you don't believe. Organizations should do their analysis before opting for a particular way to develop software. Irrespective of Agile frameworks that organizations choose to follow (Scrum, Lean, Kanban, etc.), they will never be able to succeed if they don't believe in their choice.

These are some of the fundamental blocks that I believe should be addressed by any organization that wants to be Agile. True benefits of Scrum, Lean, Kanban, or any other Agile method can be reaped if and only if organizations have solid foundations, as explained above. On those, anything can be built. After all, remember that if you want to be Agile, it's a voyage.

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Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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Current rating: 4.5 (4 ratings)


Anonymous, 1/25/2016 9:10:28 PM

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