An Empirical Approach to Agile Transformations

Enterprises big and small are aspiring for agility these days and kick-starting Agile transformations. Agile is mainstream. The movement that started with a manifesto and principles has grown bigger. From product development and startups, agile is now being adopted in mainstream (read legacy) companies for all kinds of knowledge work beyond the scope of pure product development – in services, support, marketing, HR and so on.

With the widespread application, many ways to achieve agility have also sprung up. We have Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, SAFe and probably few more variations. Each have their benefits and challenges depending on the organizational context that they are being used into.

Organizations need to look at these frameworks as “frameworks” and not solutions. Understanding them can help you solve your problems, however they are not the solutions. The frameworks need to be applied considering the organizational context and culture. This is a combination of the current state and desired state of the organization. Adopting approaches that are extreme and cater to the needs of only one state would be hazardous. Imagine an organization that now works in a functional silo structure suddenly adopting Scrum. The intent is right and the method is also right. We know Scrum works. But will it work in this organization? I don’t want to answer it. Because I don’t know. It would also depend on several other factors – the size of the organization, the business complexity, compelling need, management and team buy-in to name a few.

Given the number of variables in play, if you apply the Cynefin framework, this clearly falls under the complex problem domain and needs a probe-sense-respond approach. When you are starting, you have no clue what will work in your context or not. Maybe scrum will work, maybe not. May Kanban will. Maybe not. The fact is. Until you probe and sense, you don’t know how to respond.

This then is the right approach in my view for designing any kind of implementation approach that brings in agility. You want to look at the frameworks, what others before you have tried and devise something for yourself. The more important thing is you need a fast feedback loop. Remember – higher the risk, the shorter your sprint should be. So you want to run with something and know what works and what doesn’t and adapt. This does not necessarily mean I am subtly hinting at Kanban. No. you can try Scrum and see if it works. You can devise your own XYZ version and see if it works. What matters more are the outcomes, not the process. We are fundamentally here for the agility not because we have passion for a specific approach.

probe-sense-respond“It is typical to adopt the defined (theoretical) modeling approach when the underlying mechanisms by which a process operates are reasonably well understood. When the process is too complicated for the defined approach, the empirical approach is the appropriate choice”

[Process Dynamics, Modeling, and Control, Babatunde A. Ogunnaike and W. Harmon Ray]

Empirical approach is at the heart of Agile thinking. This then is also the right way bringing in agility. Your process for an agile transformation needs to be rooted in the empirical philosophy of transparency, inspection and adaptation.

Probe. Sense. Respond.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..