Agile Outside of Software

The manifesto for agile software development (http://agilemanifesto.org) consists of 4 basic values:

1. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools?
2. Working software over comprehensive documentation?
3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation?
4. Responding to change over following a plan

I’ve been thinking about how this manifesto applies outside of the world of software, for which it was originally created. These concepts are so engrained into various agile methodologies, which these days don’t explicitly refer to software any longer, that it begs the question: how does a team apply these four values to their work outside of software development; specifically, what would replace delivering ‘working software’? The other three values translate more fluidly to differing spheres of work. For example, whether in the field of business, sales, medicine, etc. placing greater value on all the items on the left over those on the right will produce a transformed culture and working environment. But what does ‘working software’ translate into in these various realms? Particularly relevant for non-profit organizations, the next possible question would be: what if we are not creating a ‘product’ or something that is ‘shippable’? What I’ve found to be the methodology which most aptly addresses this question is OpenAgile.

On its website: www.openagile.com it is noted that: OpenAgile is a learning system designed to help individuals, teams, and organizations build capacity for rapidly delivering value to their stakeholders. Rather than the focus being on a product, the aim shifts to learning and value. Yes, the ‘product’, if there is one (software or other), is important, but now there are even greater possibilities for the use of agile outside of software.

Though almost deceivingly simple, the principles animating OpenAgile are extremely profound. Through practicing the core foundational principles of truthfulness, consultative decision making, and systematic learning (through reflection, learning, planning, and action – all in light of guidance) the potential ability to ‘deliver’ something valuable is extraordinarily enhanced. Indeed, the greatest value could even be the learning that has taken place from the team or individuals themselves, the changed culture now animated by consultation engendering collaboration rather than competition, the regular and ongoing practice of truthfulness in a team resulting in accelerated transformation (potentially also allowing for that team to be more committed and driven to delivering a ‘product’) and the creation of a space where continual learning is the hallmark.

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Cultivating a Learning Culture

I’ve recently joined Berteig Consulting Inc., and we are wrapping up our first cycle as a new team. The last two weeks has been an extraordinarily rich experience for me in a multitude of ways.

The time I’ve spent reviewing various online and published Agile reference materials, thinking deeply about the concepts in the Agile Manifesto and Principles, studying some in-house materials and portions of different books about agile coaching and retrospectives has been really useful to my deepening in the concepts surrounding the framework of Agile. Even more helpful though has been the fact that I have had the opportunity to complement this reading and studying with action and engagement with our clients, and that our team has been so open to the reflections I’ve shared and has shared their own. Previous experiences have taught me that familiarity with resources and guidance, without practical application, can be limiting and create an over-intellectualization of concepts that, when divorced from action, can create an artificial version of reality, and that makes me even more appreciative for the time I’ve been able to spend interacting with clients and thinking about what I’ve been reading about and how this would be applicable to their teams.

Our team regularly articulates and works to apply concepts we think are foundational to growth and transformation, such as truthfulness, consultation, and agility in thinking and action at the individual and group level. I’ve found that our ongoing communication in our team room and reflection throughout the day has been instrumental in creating a space that is open and forward moving for us.

I’ve also realized a lot of factors have contributed to the culture of learning we are continually developing in our team, including our openness and honesty during progress meetings, our efforts to use consultation as a guide and instrument when we’re trying to make decisions, the actions we take to complete a task, and our readiness to respond to change. I think we’re also all really aware in our team how important our approach to the process of learning is. I’ve found this manifested in different team members in different ways: experienced ones practice coupling expertise with humility, others display incredible levels of patience and servitude to the team, still others animate the group with high levels of joy and kindness.

We also each seem to have a very conscious appreciation for the new culture we are trying to create within our team, which will help us in accompanying other teams to develop as well. Personally, I am continually striving to transform my actions to reflect what I learn through each experience each day and feel that the individuals on our team are doing the same. We increase our understanding of how to transform our own actions and those of the team as a unit as we apply what we are learning simultaneously to areas and interactions beyond ourselves. From what I’ve seen so far, transformation is a key concept with every team we are engaged with, and I think that we can contribute to that process a lot more if we are also always trying as a team to do the same.

The spirit of collaboration I have experienced within our team and with our clients has been really uplifting to me and for that I thank each of you, my collaborators, for your contributions and all that we have been able to do and learn together.

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