Imagine you are walking into a nice restaurant. You are seated next to an awesome sea water aquarium and watching the well-dressed waitress serving great looking food, pouring expensive wine in glasses and in the background, you can hear relaxing music from a piano player – everything looks, smells and feels just perfect. You are ordering food so expensive you cannot believe you are really doing it. You are finally eating in that one restaurant everybody is talking about. And when your order finally arrives at your table you cannot wait to take the first bite… and it tastes just like the worst food you ever had in your life.
This short story has a lot in common with something I have been observing for more than a decade – Agility, aka Agile, aka Agile Transformation. And I listened to that nonsense of „How can we measure how agile we are?“ and the related Agile Maturity Models.
To be fair – when I started working in this business a had the same mindset. If my customer wants to be agile then it makes sense to measure how agile they are. Sounds right, doesn’t it? If being agile is your goal you should measure the progress you are making towards reaching that goal. Just like if you want to run a marathon in under 4 hours you must exercise for reaching that goal and measure how far you can run in 4 hours.
But there are two fundamental misunderstandings when it comes to the topic of measuring agility.
1. Agile way of working is a means to an end – not an end or goal by itself
In the beginning of our story we saw that everything was perfect – besides the food. But what do you expect when you go into a restaurant? Right, first of all: great tasting food! I personally had a lot of great food experiences in places where you might not expect it on the first glance. Do not get me wrong – a well-designed restaurant, well dressed waitress, great ambient and nice music playing is nice. However, satisfying your customer with awsome food is the most important thing.
Customers are not interested in how „Agile“ one is or whether we rub against each other all day long with pink bunny costumes. The customer judges your work by how well it helps to solve his problem.
2. Agility itself was never intended to be measured
Back in 1986 when the Article “The new Product development” was published it described companies who dealt differently with the challenges there were facing. Without using the word “agile” it perfectly describes behaviour that we recognize as what we call today the agile way of working. But the perspective was different: The authors didn’t look for an “agile” companies to see how the work, they looked for successful companies and how the react to the challenges of that time — which are not that different from today. These companies measured the success of their different way of working on the success of their business. Over the last years I saw so many “Agile transformations” who are measured on KPIs like:
- Number of “agile” Teams
- Number of Trainings delivered
- Number of Scrum Masters
- Number of agile Leaders
I am not saying these kind numbers are useless – they can be a good indicator of your progress on your journey. But the result should be a change in your business numbers.
The cure is “easy to learn, hard master”. But a common pattern I used over the last years was very successful:
Start with Why
Based on the book „Start with why“ from Simon Sinek you should start with asking yourself about the “Why” regarding your agile transformation. What are the challenges you are facing within your company or with your customer that leads you to the idea that agile ways of working may help you?
Hint: The focus should be on something that the customers will appreciate 😉
Do not do this alone! Co-create the „Why“ together with colleagues from other departments and across all levels of the hierarchy.
A simplified example can be: „Our Customer is not happy with us because it takes us very long to react to requested Changes“.
Make your Agile Journey tangible and measurable
Once you and your colleagues are clear about the why start to answer these questions:
- What is the overall goal of the transformation? Hint: The answer is not “agile” 😉
- How can you measure the overall goal? What are the numbers that should go up or down? How do you know if you are on track?
- What needs to be done in the next month to achieve the overall goal?
- Who is involved and how do we regularly check in with these people?
A possible tool to consider that has been used successfully already for the second step would be “Objective and Key Results” (OKRs).
If you combine both steps you get a quite good understanding of what is needed to make agile more than just a buzzword but a real impact on your business.
Being Agile and doing agile was never the goal – it was always about successful products and successful companies in times where behaviour from decades ago does not work anymore. Understanding the purpose and the tangible outcome of your Agile Transformation helps you to navigate through that change to a goal that inspires others to follow you.
Short teaser: And in the next Article I will talk about why even a goal sometime makes no sense … 😉