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Agile as Concentrated Feed to Increase Employee Performance

There are many good reasons to consider agility. For instance, you could believe in the largely untapped creativity, motivation and self-responsibility of employees. Or you could recognize that a plan-driven approach to tackle complex problems is less suitable than an empirical one. And, of course, you could have the desire to radically focus on customer value and optimize the value stream accordingly. However, if you prefer to stick to the old ways of thinking, you certainly should avoid these considerations. Instead book titles such as “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time” by Jeff Sutherland (a book worth reading and helpful by the way) lead to a fatal fallacy: Agile methods are sort of concentrated feed that will boost the performance of your employees.

Effectiveness Over Efficiency

Agility is more about effectiveness than efficiency. It is about doing the right thing in an unpredictable and complex environment rather than working through well-known and planned tasks more efficiently. The focus of agility is on delivering customer value quickly. On the one hand, of course, to generate value quickly. On the other hand, however, in order to gain empirically supported insights from the use by the customer for the further development.

Henrik Kniberg. Making sense of MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

This picture by Henrik Kniberg shows this empirical procedure in the sequence at the bottom very nicely. With each delivery, the customer can move a little faster, more comfortably and more safely. And the findings from the customer’s experience go back into development. This is why a convertible is created, because it has been discovered that the customer appreciates fresh air. Of course, this is not the most efficient way to build a convertible, but it is the proper way if it is not clear which means of transportation is needed.

If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.

Steven R. Covey

System Optimization Instead of Agile Concentrated Feed

Employees are not dairy cows and agile methods are not concentrated feed. Agility does not optimize the performance of individuals, but the performance, the value stream and the added value of the whole system in which these people do their work.

A system is more than the sum of its parts; it is an indivisible whole. It loses its essential properties when it is taken apart. 

Russel Ackoff

The roots of agility reside in the five principles of lean management. Thus the Manifesto for Agile Software Development can be understood as the application of these principles to software development. Based on the customer value, the optimal flow is created in an interdisciplinary and self-organizing team that covers the complete value stream from the idea to the operation of the software. The goal is to focus on the value-adding processes and work steps and to avoid unnecessary effort.

Lean Management is about optimizing the system and the flow of work in the value stream. It is deliberately not a matter of fully exploiting the performance of the individual components and employees. In addition to this waste through unnecessary effort (Muda in Japanese), the Toyota Production System therefore also mentions overload (Muri in Japanese) as another type of waste. And this principle of working sustainably obviously was also important to the authors of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:

Agile processes promote sustainable development.  The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

Principles behind the Agile Manifesto
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Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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