Rethinking Agile: Learning And Leadership For Business Agility


Jason Bloomberg

September 19, 2016

What comes to mind when you hear the word agile? If you’re a techie, more likely than not Agile software development methodologies like Scrum will come to mind. For everyone else in large organizations, however, the word suggests business agility.

At the inaugural Business Agility Conference in New York, organizational consultants, HR experts, and others will explore issues of agile organization design, leadership, HR policies in agile organizations, and business innovation. Discussions of technology generally, and Agile software methodologies in particular, will be primarily tangential to the focus of this business-centric crowd.

There will be a few notable exceptions, however. Angel Diaz-Maroto, Certified Enterprise Coach and Certified Agile Leadership Educator at Agile training and coaching firm Agilar, will be running a workshop for the Scrum Alliance’s Certified Agile Leadership program.

Angel Diaz-Maroto (source: Angel Diaz-Maroto)

Angel Diaz-Maroto (source: Angel Diaz-Maroto)

Scrum has proven to be the most popular Agile software development methodology, and the Scrum Alliance is “the largest, most established and influential professional membership and certification organization in the Agile community,” according to its web site. As a nonprofit association, one of the Scrum Alliance’s most important roles is to develop the certifications like the ones Diaz-Maroto puts in his title.

Given the broad confusion between Agile (capitalized to indicate the software development philosophy) and agile (as in business agility), I spoke with Diaz-Maroto to get his take. “The Certified Agile Leadership program (CAL) is the first thing from the Scrum Alliance that is entirely outside the IT world,” Diaz-Maroto explains. “It’s about what mindset do people need to get the holistic understanding of agility.”

As a result, the Scrum Alliance is expanding its mission. “Agile is now much more than a revolutionary approach to work for the software development industry,” says Manny Gonzalez, CEO of the Scrum Alliance. “It’s transforming a wide variety of industries and specialties from marketing and human resources to financial services.”

How Diaz-Maroto defines business agility is clearly a critical question. “Business agility is creating a learning organization that is faster and better at learning about themselves and their customers,” he says.

Focusing the context for business agility on learning rather than change is unusual, but relates into how the Scrum Alliance ties Agile to leadership. “CAL focuses on leadership development and helping others develop as leaders,” Diaz-Maroto says. “What is your leadership style and how to take it to the next level.”

What About Software?

Given the Scrum Alliance’s fifteen years of history focusing on software, this left turn into leadership development outside the technology organization seems to be rather awkward – and if anything, increases the confusion between Agile and business agility.

Diaz-Maroto agrees. “Agile vs. agile? That point is really important,” he says. “The Agile Manifesto falls short on describing business agility.”

The Agile Manifesto – formally the Manifesto for Agile Software Development – is the loose collection of values and principles that a handful of developers hammered out over a weekend back in 2001. But, as my article questioning whether Agile has outlived its usefulness would suggest, the Manifesto has grown rather long in the tooth.

Nevertheless, the Manifesto’s focus on better software was what the industry needed at the time. “The Agile Manifesto was an awesome kickstarter from 2001, because we had this customization challenge,” Diaz-Maroto explains. “But now, we’re pushing to get the rest of the organization aligned. It’s not just about better software, it’s about better business.”

The customization challenge Diaz-Maroto is referring to is the one organizations face as they try to focus on individual customer’s needs – the business agility challenge central to digital transformation initiatives. In most industries, such customization depends upon better software.

“We’re in a ‘customization revolution,’” Diaz-Maroto continues. “Software development involves customizing what you’re delivering.” In other words, software drives business agility by helping companies focus on individual customer preferences.

An organization won’t be in touch with such preferences, however, unless it is a learning organization. “Customers don’t care about the product. They care about their needs,” Diaz-Maroto points out. “The product is a means of customer communication and delight, not the goal itself.”

Given the customer-driven, yet technology-empowered nature of digital efforts, this notion that products – especially digital products – are means for customers to communicate their desires to the companies they interact with is an important aspect of business agility.

Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers.

This article was written by Jason Bloomberg from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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