Published Aug 24, 2018
by Lisa Hershman

Employers and C-suites executives are still asking, “should we be Agile?” At a global level, a lot of things we took for granted have started to change. Countries that, for decades, have been economic partners are now suddenly at odds. All kinds of new risks have entered the equation, from deciding where to build a product to who’s going to be able to buy it.

There is no room for rigidity in such a situation. When the political and economic situation around the world is constantly changing, this affects not only our daily decision making as executives, but also our consumers’ sentiments.

In this scenario of rapid market changes, we have to be adaptable and iterative, ready to adjust course at a moment’s notice, either to seize new opportunities or to avoid a dead end.

Too many enterprises stubbornly cling to waterfall management against an overwhelming track record of poor results.

Being an Agile enterprise is about thinking differently. At the start it’s about stepping back, gaining perspective on your organization, pinpointing failures and drawing solutions. Perhaps the most important thing enterprises can see differently is the role of the managers themselves. The purpose of enterprise agility is to create a more logical and efficient framework for getting work done. But that work gets done by people, and those people have been accustomed to working in a certain way. That’s especially true of managers.

The theory of management has been more studied and written about than ever before. Innovative ideas are plentiful. But has the discipline of management succeeded? Have the innovations in that area sufficiently contributed to transforming the way we work, leading toward better productivity and outputs? Along with many others, I would argue they have not.

There’s a myth that an Agile enterprise must be completely flat. Agile is about creating the right team dynamics that allow for collaboration and quick iterations – not just flattening out org charts. Effective process organizations don’t just eliminate management – they rethink its entire role. Getting out of stagnant managerial job descriptions and into flexible, dynamic ones is critical to Agile success.

Individuals heading up functions such as marketing, engineering and research have played important roles in their respective departments and have accumulated a certain amount of status and authority. While their authority doesn’t change, expectations of their role must.

The right manager in process transformation is committed to establishing Agile in his or her sphere of the organization. Every person with a role in the organization must feel ownership and responsibility, as must their higher-ups.

Ultimately, the Agile enterprise is working toward eliminating cross departmental boundaries. Otherwise there is no escape from the world of “it’s not my job” and passing the buck. Management is not obsolete in the Agile enterprise, rather it owns the design, nurturing and evolution of the entire job.

The new role centers on the design of the work rather than the traditional management job of supervising people. It depends on exercising influence more than on having control. It demands advocacy rather than authority, and focuses on fire prevention rather than firefighting. Good managers in Agile transformation have the perspective to notice flaws and create solutions around working methods.

Agile managers are diplomats who use their intellect and imagination to break new ground. They are the influencers that drive transformation and allow for the retirement of waterfall in a healthy, natural way.

Whole industries are being upturned by innovation, and organizations stuck in traditional waterfall management face extinction. However, when scaling Agile to the enterprise, slavishly inputting even Agile frameworks into the greater organization is just as much of a recipe for failure – one that many well-meaning companies have encountered. Today’s workplace demands the practice of management with an open mind.

Agile management as whole leads to a more sustainable workplace ecosystem. It’s a mindset and culture shift. Zoom in on the inner workings of successful Agile enterprise structures and you’ll find Agile management on the front end as the primary catalysts to transformation and, more importantly, as the key ingredient for long-term sustainability of the new management structure.

At its core Agile is about priorities, with a manifesto that puts individuals and interactions above processes and tools, working products above comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration above contract negotiation, and responding to change above following a plan. When scaling these practices to the enterprise, Agile doesn't eliminate management – it improves it.

By: Lisa Hershman  

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