Agile working & directing: paradox or synergy?

Agile working and directing are far less contradictory than they may seem at first glance. They can even reinforce each other! So where does this apparent contradiction come from and what synergy is possible with this exciting combination? And even more important: how can you achieve this? Koen Boomsma (Senior Consultant) and Ronald Israels (Principal Consultant) discuss this together.

Agile working

“In the 1990s, in response to the many challenges of waterfall projects, a number of lighter and more iterative development methods emerged. At the beginning of this century, those methods came together in the Agile Manifesto for Software Development: a turning point that explained the new approach and brought the benefits of these innovative methods to the entire software development industry,” Koen kicks off. “Meanwhile, Agile has also been adopted by domains outside of software development, including hardware, infrastructure, operations and support. More recently, even business teams outside of technology have also embraced Agile principles, for planning and executing their work.”

The Agile Manifesto consists of four apparent contradictions:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools;
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation;
  • Responding to change over following a plan;
  • Collaborating with customers over contract negotiation.

The basis of the Agile approach is self-managing teams, which create value by working with Agile frameworks like Scrum or Kanban, or a combination of both. The agility is in the delivered results, which come from experimenting and learning from your mistakes. To make this scalable, various frameworks, such as SAFe, LeSS, and the Spotify model, have emerged. Agile is now an umbrella, under which all values, principles, methods, and frameworks fall in the service of agile organizations.

Agile directing

“Digital services are services that at their core consist of transporting and delivering ‘ones and zeros’. A digital service transforms the ones and zeros into transactions and ensures that the service leads to understandable, reliable, confidential, and secure information and/or opportunities to act,” Ronald explains. “Examples of digital services are: a (digital) workplace, an application (app), a transfer of money to another account holder and delivery of a package from a web store.”

Direction can steer an organization in a variety of ways, with the end goal being well-functioning digital services for the entire organization.

Successful direction consists of a number of things, which must be executed well:

  • Governance – Setting standards, planning finances, and defining and monitoring an architecture;
  • Orchestrate – By defining the themes, stories, and epics by applying agile philosophy enable you to consciously think like a customer or business owner in terms of digital products;
  • Integrate – This is the final step. As using multiple systems alongside each other can create chaos, you need to consciously build infrastructures and applications that integrate and works well together.

Paradigm shift

“The industrial paradigm is closely linked to the rise of large industrial organizations such as mining, the automobile industry, chemical, and electrical engineering. Large companies like Shell, Unilever, State Mines (later DSM), and Philips, had complex organizational structures that adopted traditional direction and management thinking. Formalization, hierarchy, and standardization were the ingredients of these organizations. Traditional management provided the recipes,” Ronald begins. “The emphasis on control and achieving stability are the characteristics and these were achieved by building closed systems. The industrial paradigm works fine if you are buying industrial products; that’s also what traditional direction and management were invented for.”

“Mainstream views of organizing, rooted in the industry, are increasingly being challenged. In the increasingly service-based economy with more highly skilled workers, the range of demands on organizations is growing. There is also an increasing focus on what people expect of their work and what organizations have to offer,” continues Koen. “This is partly due to the increasing level of education and the growing individualization. The design principles of the old industrial organization lead to poor use of the talents of employees, motivation problems, and inflexible organizations. New approaches to designing organizations, in which technical and social requirements are more closely balanced, led to the Agile paradigm.”

Five Actions

While there may initially seem to be a conflict between Agile working and directing, it is entirely possible to achieve synergy. The trick lies in successfully connecting directing to the Agile way of working, of both an organization’s customers and suppliers.

The following five actions will get you from paradox to synergy:

  1. Customize the coordination of work. The coordination of work depends, among other things, on the level of outsourcing. You can outsource a whole team, part of the team or just a number of external people to supplement your own people. As the number of outsourcers in an organization increases, the need for direction often increases as well. Sometimes you have to search for the balance between working Agile and keeping control, but the frameworks for both offer more and more opportunities that can be applied to specific situations. That is precisely what customization is all about.
  1. Balancing between internal and external is a choice. It is to continuously find the balance between internal and external forces. It is important to choose which resources you really want to have in-house. What is the organization’s core business and how do you differentiate yourself in the market? Is it wise to develop a digital workplace in-house?
  1. Timelines and timeliness of results are timeless. If you look at the timeline within an organization from an Agile way of working, you are dealing with a strict rhythm. The team works with sprints of a number of weeks, whereby set goals can already be achieved after the completion of one sprint. In addition, companies work, for example, with quarterly planning for the realization of quarterly goals. In addition to these internal timelines, you also have to deal with external constraints. Consider laws and regulations that must be met by a certain date, the pressure from shareholders to achieve something or planned major events. No matter how you look at it, making good decisions about this is timeless.
  1. Commitment and contract that deliver results. For organizations, it is extremely important to think about the commitment you require from suppliers, your own employees, and external parties. We must not lose sight of the result when considering which form of collaboration contributes optimally to the objectives of the business. From the management’s point of view, it is essential to map this out for each supplier and keep it in focus. In principle, a Time & Material concept is often chosen, but as the collaboration matures, you can start looking at result-oriented agreements by measuring certain parameters.
  1. Artifacts as building blocks of collaboration. By identifying which building blocks are required, it is possible to align the rituals from direction and the artifacts from the Agile domain. This builds a foundation for keeping control, but at the same time enables you to adopt the Agile way of working.

Curious about our vision on Agile working and directing and our best practices for successful direction in an Agile environment? Then get in touch with us at info_Asia@quintagroup.com!

Agile, Sourcing