5 common misconceptions about Agile and Business Agility

01 November 2023 Consultancy.eu 6 min. read
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According to most estimates, over 8 in 10 large organisations today use Agile to support the delivery of their change, improvement and/or innovation initiatives. Yet in doing so, leader and professionals run into all kinds of misconceptions about the Agile philosophy and methodology. Alize Hofmeester, managing partner at Twinxter, explores the five most common misconceptions.

#1 Business Agility is about wording

People do not get scared by merely introducing new names for a way of working. People get scared because introducing new frameworks like Agile might involve a change or transformation which they are personally impacted by.

These responses have everything to do with how the human brain is wired. In the past we had to protect ourselves against dangerous situations, like meeting a bear or a lion on the plains. Our first natural response is either to fight, fly or freeze.

5 common misconceptions about Agile and Business Agility

While introducing Agile on the surface of things cannot be labelled as being dangerous, our brains have a different opinion about that. Facing change, people will always first resist.

When you experience that people start arguing about nametags, the underlying problem can often be found in not understanding the impact and the why behind the change. The moment you start paying attention to that, you will notice that nametags no longer form an impediment.

Even more so, using different words can be very powerful in indicating the urgency of the change. Our brain needs a signal that change is coming. It needs a new experience to change the current image. It needs a powerful signal that the team no longer exists and will be replaced by, for example, a self-organising squad.

#2 Business Agility is about frameworks

People often believe that they are working Agile in their organisation. Meaning some teams, or single departments are working with self-organising teams and use, for example, Scrum. Or, at the other side of the spectrum, organisations believe their division/team is so complex that Scrum or Agile will not work for them.

While frameworks and methods such as Agile, Lean, Kanban and/or Scrum are commonly used to support Agility, they are not the only wat to achieve Agility.

It’s no wonder that 2 out of 3 transformations fail. Or that leaders and employees experience Agile ways of working as a buzz or hype. Even when everyone is convinced that Business Agility would help the organisation to thrive, research and our own practice shows that CEO’s remain in their executing mode, instead of driving real transformation.

What I often observe is that leaders like to work on the tangible part of change. Maybe pushed by external factors like stakeholder or investors, they compile intense roadmaps and build impressive PowerPoint slidedecks that explain the business case as in a cookbook. It frequently occurs that it’s a copy of a copy of what other organisations do or aim to do.

After a fairly top-down communication, leaders start to execute on the plan, following the recipe from A to B. And that’s when the new framework slowly comes to a grinding halt.

Managers are still controlling the teams, while teams experience that some methods (for example: Scrum or Lean) do indeed not work in their situation and start lacking behind on delivery. When they look at their managers for guidance, these managers start to push more and more and together, they get stuck inside the hamster wheel. Questions and resistance arise, and Agile is then often disqualified as a methoodlgy that “does not work in our organisation.”

#3 Business Agility is only for employees

Let me tell you a secret. Leaders are also human, and at the same time, they are also just employees. A certain job title or having the most followers does not make you a true leader. In Agile organisations, leadership gets a different meaning.

It is a misconception to think that the biggest change comes down to employees who become part of self-organising or multidisciplinary teams. Another common misconception is to think that only employees require education, training, or coaching to learn and understand the new roles and new way of working.

Before taking such a profound step as an Agile transformation, leaders should first start to:

  • gain deep insights into the philosophy behind Agile;
  • understand what this means for their organisation and role;
  • learn how to let go of the reins;
  • comprehend how to break out of patterns;
  • master how to help employees navigate the path towards Business Agility.

This path is not a paved one and Agility is not a magic solution that will solve all of an organisation’s problems. At times it will be hard and will therefore require endurance, long-term commitment, investment in all the people in the organisation, and a cultural change. Leaders are role models. Understanding what changes are required and the commitment to their new roles are crucial to the success of the aspired transformation.

#4 Business Agility means chaos

Some people believe that Agile means to do away with all meetings, rules and processes. That self-organisation means that all teams can do whatever they want, work on topics they enjoy, and in the structure they prefer.

It is correct that some organisations, departments and teams do the first and get rid of all the old meeting habits. However, they also create a new organisational rhythm to align on work that has to be done, in a more iterative way.

The same counts for rules and processes. To create Agility, you have to establish other rules of engagement and processes that do not hinder employees and customers, but care for flow and value, and are adaptive to changing circumstances.

In fact, Business Agility is very disciplined and requires a balance between structure and flexibility, with clear goals and processes, all aligned to the same shared purpose.

Often, Agile techniques introduce the use of visual management like big-room planning or the Obeya. This helps create a company-wide overview and transparency, so to enable teams and leaders to better collaborate, have a dialogue about topics that really matter, encourage reflection in order to learn and improve, and make decisions based on data.

#5 Business Agility is just for IT departments

Traditionally, the Agile Manifesto has been associated with the technology industry. Organisations that start with creating Agility, mostly start within the IT department. For some, this is a logical start as digitalisation is a top priority and directly linked with IT. However, this doesn’t mean that the other departments are less important or less able to create Business Agility.

During a planning session, product owners of several IT teams discussed the collaboration with other departments. They struggled with the topic of goalsetting and were grumbling about having different priorities. This was not the first time and would probably also not be the last, as none of the other departments where part of this sessions.

Hearing the discussions, Twinxter decided to do an intervention and dived deeper in the root cause of the problem. It turned out that the main problem was their siloed way of working, the lack of collaboration, conversation, and alignment with the overall goals and strategy of other departments. They began to understand that their department could not operate properly without the collaboration with others.