Sign up with your email address to be the first to know about new products, VIP offers, blog features & more.

The Problem of Management In Reaching Agility

(with apologies to Bertrand Russell..)

For a living, one of the main things I do is to advise and train technologists on how to deliver better – better systems, with better quality, better business value, better timeliness and predictability. I teach and coach lean-agile practices and patterns, and I know that they work.

But I’m wondering if I’m – we’re all – doing it wrong.

I’m at a conference with a bunch of people who do what I do, and what I’m hearing – over and over again – is that we’re having success… to a point.

And I was sitting in the sunshine outside and realized that what we’re doing is bolting a layer of lean-agile practices onto traditional hierarchical management structures.

It looks a little like this:

We’re lowering the friction of traditional organizations, but we’re not really making them behave with any agility (remember, I’m the guy who talks about ‘agility’ vs ‘agile’).

And to be honest, the changes we push forward makes the lives of tech folks better, and improves the reliability of their delivery, and lowers the overall level of friction at the working surface. These are good things.

But they’re not enough. We’re not changing the world of business the way it needs to be changed. We’re barely even succeeding at making the changes we’re being hired to make.

We’re not making businesses agile, as opposed to making their tech orgs lean-agile-ish. I say ‘ish’ because I don’t see how they can truly deliver in a lean-agile way when they are constrained by budgets, HR policies, departmental siloing, sales, strategy and all of the other organizational functions that keep on functioning in the traditional way.

The last few days I’m hearing complaints that “we’re not invited” to talk outside the technology organization.

Can we attain organizational agility without talking outside the technology organization? Can we even really attain and keep agility within the technology side of the house without it?

We need to get out of the technology ghetto if we’re going to really effect change.

Our methods have demonstrated value and success in the domain we’ve applied them to – constrained by the environments we operate in.


Here’s a suggestion: Let’s deal with the constraint by transforming the environment rather than coping with it.