Mar 182013
Organization Keeps you moving-Vin

Organization Keeps you moving-Vin (Photo credit: nist6ss)

When people think of agile or lean practices, they almost always think of getting rid of things.  Doing less things.

  • Less documentation
  • Less process
  • Less requirements gathering
  • Less governance
  • Less accountability
  • Less management

Leaning up does mean trimming the fat, so in many organizations, that characterization isn’t inaccurate.  You tend to get rid of the 100 page requirements document.  The team self directs as opposed to a manager handing out work to individuals.  Steps in a process that exist entirely out of self-defense but add no value and impede its delivery tend to get chucked.  Agile teams tend to need less direct oversight and management.  And so on.

This is true assuming an organization has a lot of non-value added activities in these areas.  If the goal is to deliver value often and quickly, you get rid of the stuff that doesn’t help you do that.

However, you also add the stuff that helps you do that.

For instance, being agile doesn’t mean you have less documentation – it means you have exactly the documentation that provides value, and you produce it when it will be the most valuable.  Some organizations might already do very little or no documentation, but an agile organization will identify where that might help deliver value and, if it does, they produce it.

Being agile doesn’t mean you don’t gather requirements up front – it means you gather exactly what you need at the time, and you get it exactly when it will add the most value (i.e. when you’re ready to work on something).  Otherwise, you don’t.  Some organizations might do very little requirements gathering.  In fact, the introduction of acceptance criteria – a common agile practice – is often a new addition to most organizations.

Sometimes, the best way to enhance the delivery of value is to remove layers of process that don’t really help, but it can also mean adding processes where there were none before, if and only if that process will enhance your ability to deliver value.

Sometimes, becoming more agile means removing layers of management or the impact of management.  Sometimes, it means much more engaged management.  Sometimes, both.

The idea that becoming agile always means less of these traditional elements is a shallow one that is only a hair away from being a harmful myth about agility.  Agility means less of these traditional elements that impede the rapid and frequent delivery of value, and Gaia knows there’s a lot of that out there that needs to go, but it’s borderline crazy to assume these elements are inherently bad, and increasing agility just means getting rid of them.

Depending on the organization, agility sometimes means more documentation, more detailed requirements, more governance, more design, more process, more management.  It’s about removing the roadblocks, but also improving the road quality and safety so you can increase the speed limit.  It’s about removing impediments to value delivery, but it’s also about adding things that enable value delivery.  It’s not just destructive, it’s also constructive.

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