Dec 062013

If there was one major development in the Agile field in the last year or two, it’s been a shift of focus from teams and methodologies to organizations and value chains. I expect this development to gain more speed and depth in the next three years — becoming the major issue of the debate.

I see three main threads within the focus on organizations and value chains emerging. These seem to address different needs and markets.

The first thread is a tendency to “blueprint” an organization in order to facilitate Agile’s introduction. The “Scaling Agile Framework” belongs, in my opinion, in this group, as do the initiatives of the PMI. Despite a heated debate about whether it is a good idea to blueprint an agile organization, this thread seems to address a growing demand in the market, especially with “early majority” organizations. No matter what position you take, I think it is mandatory to follow this discussion closely and develop an informed and differentiated position yourself.

The second thread looks beyond the realm of Agile as it is understood in the software community, and reaches out to “co-evolution” approaches, such as Beyond Budgeting, Human Systems Dynamics or modern HR approaches. Over the last 10 years (some argue, even longer), Agile has successfully connected to the ideas of Lean;  it will surely profit from connecting to compatible ideas of other business movements. Though these connections are not mainstream yet, you may want to actively participate in making them so, or just observe what’s going on here, depending on how innovative and adventurous you are with respect to Agile. In any case, these connections offer opportunities to gain additional insight about the nature of Agile.

The third thread searches for new approaches to leadership and thus, organizational structures that breathe the values of agile. “Servant Leadership” may sound nice (at least if you’re not a manager yourself), but gives little advice on what it means to take over leadership in an agile organization. I also disagree with a widespread notion (among non-managers) that self-organization and leadership are two conflicting concepts. Rather, I think that this notion comes from a limited idea of leadership as “heroic leadership”. What we need is to develop what the Orginzational Development community calls a “post-heroic leadership style”. This effects all parts of the organization, in particular: hierarchies, career support, leader selection, and so on. As an Agile community, we don’t have a coherent idea of how that might look, although some lighthouse organizations exist. I expect this debate to heat up and I recommend participating to learn more about what leadership in the 21st century — in times and domains in which Tayloristic management ideas have become outdated — means.

[Editor’s Note: This post is part of the annual “Cutter Predicts …” series.]


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