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Characteristics of an Agile Organization

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Jim Collins, in his famous book “Good to Great” talks about his teams five year research where they determined what it takes to change a good company into a great one. Can Agile help in the creation of great companies?

 Jean Tabaka suggested a list of 10 characteristics of a truly Agile organization which potentially would help an organization make the leap. Jean suggested the following characteristics in order of increasing importance

  •  Work/Life Balance and Consistent Delivery – Empower teams which are dedicated to personal and organizational goals. Create a discipline of shorter release cycles.
  • Servant and Leader - The entire spectrum of managers should serve by leading and lead by serving. Instead of making decisions for the team, managers should support team commitments.
  • Sustainable and Successful - Maintaining sustainable pace and stability, all divisions of the organization should focus on customer value.
  • Contributing to the Community and Maintaining a Profitable Company – Apart from profitability and core business, making a positive impact on the community should be a focus area.
  • Collaborative and Smart – Hire smart people and foster collaboration to spread the intellect.
  • Bottom-up and Top-down Decision Making – Leaders are informed by knowledge workers and vice versa to complete the cycle. Tacit knowledge helps and informs explicit knowledge.
  • Personal Flexibility and Rhythm – Create a regular cycle of delivery and value.
  • Quality and Faster – Entire organization focuses on value delivery and a quick feedback regarding the value.
  • Creating Your Own Reality and Corporate Vision – Rather than implementing a corporate vision by having clearly defined rigid roles, Agile organizations hire great individuals who guide the corporate vision with their passion
  • Commitment to be great; disciplined culture and metrics – Metrics such as work/life balance, bottom-up and top-down decision making, servant leadership practices, innovation practices and technical debt help to decipher where the organization is on its path to greatness.

Likewise, Mike Beedle emphasized on the following characteristics of a truly Agile organization,

  • Management Pyramid is inverted
  • Greater Liberty and Freedom to accomplish the task at hand
  • Constant Learning, Knowledge Creation and Knowledge Sharing
  • A More Enjoyable and Humane Work Environment
  • A Hyper-productive Cooperative Work Mode
  • Emergent Planning, Architecture and Requirements
  • New values that generate a cooperative culture
  • The Quality of Life

Mike Cottmeyer suggested a list of patterns that he has observed across organizations, which are essential for success of Agile. According to Mike,

There are some patterns I see over and over that are fundamental to a successful agile adoption, or a large scale enterprise agile transformation. Here are the ones I think are most important and why.
  • Cross-Functional Teams
  • Empowered Team Members– Focus is on business outcomes and the teams are empowered to take their own course and decisions.
  • Single Voice of the Business– Business needs to define the priority and value for the development team.
  • Shared Accountability– Everybody has shared ownership of business outcomes.
  • Servant Leadership
  • Continuous Flow of Value– Make sure that the organization is delivering value on a regular cadence.
  • Value over Activity– Every activity should be able to bring some value addition to the organization.
  • Attention to Technical Excellence– There should be a constant watch on minimizing the amount of technical debt that is carried over time. Quality, reliability and scaleability are built in from the very beginning.
  • Early Feedback and Adaptation
  • Total Openness and Transparency– In a truly Agile organization, nothing can be hidden. People can’t hide. Progress can’t hide. Metrics can’t hide. Poor quality can’t hide. Risk can’t hide. Impediments can’t hide.
  • Trust– An environment and culture where people trust each other.

As one would observe, most of the characteristics place a lot of importance on empowerment, communication and collaboration. The key is to promote an environment of trust, learning and deliver business value with a sustainable pace.

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