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Q&A on the Book Agile Management

| Posted by Ben Linders Follow 18 Followers on Apr 14, 2018. Estimated reading time: 7 minutes |

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Key Takeaways

  • Agile isn’t an aim in itself, but a tool to improve your time-to-market, customer value creation and employee satisfaction
  • Agile is more about values and principles than it is about techniques and tools
  • Working in multidisciplinary teams is the most powerful agile concept
  • The creation of hybrid organizations is advisable, using both Lean and agile approaches
  • Implementing agile should be done in an agile way

 

The book Agile Management by Mike Hoogveld explores how the agile principles and values can be implemented in an agile way to improve the flexibility and entrepreneurship within organizations. It shows how the “voice of the customer” should be the starting point for designing the products, services, channels and processes you offer to your customers.

InfoQ readers can download a sample of Agile Management.

InfoQ interviewed Hoogveld about what agile management is and what it is not, how organizations can assess themselves to find out how agile they are, what makes agile planning different, what customer-value propositions are and how they look in practice, and what executives can do to increase the agility of their organization.

InfoQ: What made you decide to write this book?

Mike Hoogveld: Being a consultant, I saw many organizations struggling with accelerated change in customer behaviour, competition and market circumstances. Their traditional ways of working were inhibiting their ability to act quickly and work outside-in, from the customer perspective. Mainly because their processes were aimed at efficiency in predictable, repetitive activities and their structures were based on specialization in separate departments. This made me curious: how could I solve that? 

At the same time, agile was gaining ground within the IT departments. It felt to me as if this could be a practical solution. These things combined, I decided to start a PhD research into the success factors of deploying agile within the business domain. During my research, I noticed that organizations were really eager to experiment with implementing agile in their business units, but were seeking a dependable approach to do this. Therefore, I decided to write this book.

InfoQ: For whom is this book intended?

Hoogveld: It is mainly aimed at managers who want to improve the time-to-market and customer value creation of their organization, and who are curious to find out what and how they could contribute to this themselves. But I also hear that many consultants and teachers are using it.

InfoQ: How do you define agility?

Hoogveld: Firstly as a buzz word, haha. But, seriously, I think there are still a lot of professionals who approach agile as an aim in itself. While it is only a tool to improve the flexibility and entrepreneurship within your organization, thus increasing customer centricity, value creation, and employee satisfaction, and shortening your time-to-market. You could say that it helps you to think and act like a startup.

InfoQ: What is agile management, and what isn't it?

Hoogveld: The pitfall is that many managers translate agility as the deployment of a set of techniques and tools, such as Scrum. I sometimes call them “Scrum fundamentalists”. For different reasons, they consider Scrum as the holy grail. They take a Scrum manual and then everything has to be done according to its guidelines. However, although many organizations deploy the Scrum techniques and tools to perfection, it doesn’t bring them the advantages they seek for, such as as shorter time-to-market. What they are actually doing is creating a new bureaucracy, especially when they adhere to scaling models.

Although, of course, you do need some tools and techniques, I believe that agile management is mostly about principles and values. Managers should create a context in which employees can use all of their energy and inspiration to create the best possible products, services, channels and processes for customers. This context is defined by culture, showing example behaviour, structuring multidisciplinary teams, creating a facilitating physical environment, implementing the proper appraisal and rewarding method, and so on. People should feel free and save to experiment and fail. And they should feel committed as to be critical about themselves, their colleagues, the processes as to continuously improve the way their organization is doing things.

I also see organizations deploying agile throughout their whole organization. So, also in the non-customer-facing organizational units where activities are predictable and repetitive, such as in Finance. You should use Lean approaches there, to improve efficiency. Thus, you can create hybrid organizations in which you work with both Lean and agile. At the intersection points, you should focus on the principles that Lean and agile have in common.

InfoQ: How can organizations assess themselves to find out how agile they are?

Hoogveld: Most of the available maturity models measure the degree to which the agile techniques and tools are deployed. I prefer to look at it from a different angle. First, define what your most important performance indicators are with respect to agility. For instance, time-to-market, employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and so on. Then benchmark these, if possible. And also follow their development over time, to determine whether they are improving or not. 

Based on this, look at the eight agile values and principles as described in my book as some sort of checklist to determine how your organization is performing on the different elements. The insight this gives you, is the starting point for taking away inhibiting barriers for creating an agile organization. In doing so, you can then look at how agile techniques and tools may support you in daily practice.

InfoQ: What makes agile planning different?

Hoogveld: As Facebook states very nicely, they have a common understanding of where their organization should be in 25 years, their dot on the horizon. But they only plan for the coming six months, as they consider it useless to look beyond, things being so unpredictable. I think that illustrates well how organizations should plan. Don’t produce thick plans and waterfall plannings. But agree on what is your “inten”’. What is the important goal you want to achieve? Agree on this, and trust your team to do anything that is needed to reach their aim. Then, work in short iterations to check on the progress and enable continuous reprioritization. The advancing insights will get you to the finish in the most effective way. So, when things are unknown, unpredictable or complex, take small steps and forget about efficiency.

InfoQ: What are customer-value propositions and how do they look in practice?

Hoogveld: It is actually quite simple: only do things that customers value. And don’t do things you think are important based on assumptions, internal considerations or management directives. The “voice of the customer” should be the starting point for designing the products, services, channels and processes you offer to your customers. So, it is all about turning your organization inside out. For instance, booking.com performs about 170 A/B test each day to find out what aspects of its website and app work best for customers and thus for generating revenues. And Nike and Lego have their customers design and buy customized or fully new products, an activity which renders useful insights into new trends. 

In my book, I describe a proven format to assess or redesign your current propositions, or to brainstorm about the architecture and implementation of new ones. You can use a canvas to map out all elements of the proposition, such as the problems customers encounter and the advantages you offer them to solve these. This really works great in daily practice.

Of course, in case of disrupting innovations, you still have to make a “leap of faith” sometimes. But you can diminish the risks involved by testing “minimum viable products” in the form of concepts, mock-ups, demos, prototypes, and so on.

InfoQ: What can executives do to increase the agility of their organization?

Hoogveld: Read my book, haha. But, seriously, I think the best way to implement agile is to do this in an agile way. Never roll out a standard blueprint from a Scrum handbook, but find out what customized approach works best in your own specific organizations. So, take small steps to find out what does and doesn’t work, by experimenting with interventions and evaluating these. 

I would say, start with forming multidisciplinary teams and see how this works out; as my research points out that this is the most powerful concept. The data from my case studies and quantitative research shows that these teams should get an end-to-end responsibility for their purpose and that the composition of expertise in these teams should fully cover this responsibility. This makes the teams independable of the rest of the organization for achieving their goals. Furthermore, the teams should work in a physical environment that facilitates face-to-face and visual communication and collaboration, such as a dedicated team room. Finally, management should deploy servant leadership to promote self-organization in the teams as this increases speed and the sense of commitment and entrepreneurship. 

As for the implementation, try to find “believers’” who want to start a bottom-up initiative, and combine this with top-down direction when you reach a certain critical mass. And, very important, be aware that people suffer pain when asked to change their way of working and behaviour. So, constantly communicate the need for this change in terms of urgency and ambition: why is it necessary and what will it bring them?

About the Book Author

Mike Hoogveld MSc RM is a partner at Holland Consulting Group and helps organizations improve their customer performance by using agile and lean startup approaches. He is also engaged in academic research at Nyenrode Business University. Furthermore, he is an international speaker and guest lecturer at various universities and business schools. Hoogveld has worked for many companies and organizations in various industries throughout the world. See www.mikehoogveld.com

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