My names agile….. post agile.

Agile has been around for 20 years. Nearly. At least the way we articulate it to be today and anchor around it. There is a lot of intellectual person-power diving into the “whats next ” debate. Do we need to change the Manifesto? Do we need to modify some values? Do we need a new one altogether? Often thats driven by the desire to truly improve – the Heart of Agile is about reflection and improvement.  Sometimes its driven by consulting firms staking their “point of difference”, and sometimes its driven by people trying to set up the next certification bandwagon. And sometimes it is driven by ego.

Just this month, I ran a Design Thinking inspired workshop at a Business Agility Meetup focusing on the concept that all your Projects are Red, all the time. Until they deliver something working at least, to a real customer who can validate the assumptions you started out with.  It was based on a Linked Post I wrote back in April 2017. I also ran the workshop at the LAST (Lean Agile Systems Thinking ) Conference in Melbourne this year. I love doing stuff at LAST – always feels more real.

Business Agility Meetup October 3

The intent of the workshop is actually NOT to design a new way to rate projects. Its to get people to extend their thinking to beyond the story backlog they get assigned in planning. To build the intuitive response to  ask why,  and empathise with your customer before you start writing user stories. Or whatever mechanism you are using to define what you need to do to solve that problem. To work towards encouraging a culture of innovation. And thats where I see the next evolution of agile to be going. Post agile. Agile rebooted. Agile.2.0.org.

We discussed this concept of “what does Post agile mean” in an Advanced Agile Masterclass with Alistair Cockburn last year, and I have hung on to it because it resonates so well. Post agile, in a way I believe it,  is the further shifting left of the entire team to beyond the allocation of work by a nominated product owner or proxy – I’m not saying thats a bad thing and needs to change, but teams are and have evolved beyond needing that specific person. Moving the ability of the team to focus where the  wild things (customers) are, the change is ongoing and dynamic,  the opportunities are born, and the real insights are generated. Put in place the tools and process to gather deep understanding of customer behaviours – now and anticipated.

From this discussion I learned that Post agile is the combination of a few key elements:

  1. Human centred design or design thinking;
  2. Agile (obviously)
  3. Lean

In fact most of the agile consultants, the ones I admire and try to learn from,  have all these three  in their kitbag of tools. You can see it in evidence in the results they get and the outcome of how teams start to re think themselves and the nature of work. This is definitely not the first time anyone has quoted this Post agile concept and the “troika of change” (although i just made THAT up!). Thoughtworks have been using the concepts extensively, and in fact even Gartner are talking about it. You know its no longer  a fad if Gartner have jumped onto it. Now its more imperative than ever before to use these concepts together in practice, and give people the ability and the freedom to extend beyond their current remits.

Heres why. Software is eating the world, every company is now (apparently) a software company, though many of our traditional industries and legacy based organisations are not catching up yet. Customer expectations driven by digital natives have changed significantly in only 1-2 generations. That change is exponentially fast in the tradition of human evolution on earth. And guess what – its only going to get faster. Many of our historical systems of work, their management and support mechanisms, their technology  enablers, are just not prepared. Sure companies are adopting agile – the latest Version One report on the State of Agile will tell you that 94% practice agile. Extending that beyond team level, 26% are trying Enterprise Agility, and thats the new wave. Some have flirted with lean and six sigma – as a way to reduce operational costs. But thats only going to help with WHAT you think the problems are TODAY.

The next wave of agile, Post agile,, taking what we have learned over the last 16 years and I think imperative to the sustained success of enterprise agility transformations, is backing the trifecta. We need to build organisations, purposefully, where our people are encouraged, supported and motivated to constantly be searching for “whats next”. Looking for the gaps in between the goods and services they currently have and experimenting with ideas to provide stuff people need, or don’t even know they need yet.

Back to the Business Agility Meetup. We were holding it in the office of Toyota  Motor Corporations Melbourne digital team. It was the comments from some of their people attending, and their  view of innovation, that highlighted again for me what Post agile is and why its essential to foster this as a culture.  They don’t even think about it. If something makes sense, and will help them reach their goals – they do it. Its  a culture of constant innovation, and you need all three elements – HCD, agile and Lean – for it to take hold. In fact I believe  you cannot be innovative without this way of thinking and acting. Wether you know you are doing it, or its sub conscious muscle memory.

The future of work, heading inexorably towards creative and knowledge work, and further and further away from pure task driven process work as automation takes over demands we can do this. The world now expects companies to constantly innovate – adapt and thrive or die. I heard an interesting stat just today that when my 5 year old has finished Uni, it is possible 65 % or so of the available jobs then do not exist today.  Know I now its hard to make predictions, especially about the future. But the pace of change ‘curve’ of the world appears exponential and not linear – so its just possible . Its not going to be about what you know, its about how you learn and how you adapt. In fact it kind of already is. Knowledge is no longer power. What you thought you knew about what you do, about what your customer wants, changes too fast to rely on the past. Our organisational structures need to change. They have to change.

Some are already there.  Toyota – they have been there for decades. Innovation to them is just normal and what they do, they don’t even think about it. Its just the “way we do things around here”. The Three Ways, the Philosophies, the Principles, Kaizen , TPS –  the Toyota Way.

kaizen-and-toyota-way-service-orgs

I’m reminded of a quote supposedly by Taiichi Ohno (I say supposedly because you can never be sure what you find on the internet!) : “The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limits to peoples creativity. People don’t go to Toyota to work, they go there to think”.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, A statistician who went to Japan to help with the census after World War II, taught statistical process control to leaders of prominent Japanese businesses. After applying Deming’s techniques, Japanese businesses like Toyota saw great success. Their quality was far superior to that of their global competitors, and their costs were lower

As part of this work he helped launch the TQM movement. Deming’s 14 points on total quality management are still applicable today, even more so. which is somewhat amazing given how much the world has changed since he wrote them in 1982 .I have selected the ones aligned most to the thinking of Post agile  here:

1 – Create constancy of purpose for improving products and services;

5 – Improve constantly and forever every process for planning, production and service;

13 – Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone;

14 – Put everybody in the company to work accomplishing the transformation.

I will leave you to ponder this,  and compare the organisation you work for with Toyota. Do you have a culture of innovation? How will you survive the digital tsunami? Post agile thinking, bringing the elements of HCD, agile and lean together, is the opportunity that  can help you set the foundation to not just survive, but thrive.

At Credus Partners our purpose is exactly this. We work with businesses who have to rethink how they observe, think, understand and act to retain their customers, and find new ones. And essentially thats what business is about.

We are always happy for a conversation!

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