What do agile organizations look like? – This is the question we are frequently asked.
Our first answer is: Agile organizations don’t all look alike. This is just due to the fact that agile organizations are agile and high performing because they have learned by experimentation to develop their own systems.
So, these are organizations that do not copy someone else´s systems or practices but rather organizations that believe in continuous experimentation to find the better way for their vision, mission and strategy.
Although we cannot specify what all of them look like, our almost two decades of experience building these organizations help us define 8 common traits that can be recognized when working and living in these companies.
Here they are, the 8 common traits of agile organizations:
1. Leaders who do not show their back to customers
2. Discovery: teams performing MVPs to (in)validate their dreams
3. Organizational obsession on learning, not failing!
4. Collective engagement on problem solving
5. Leaders who do not robotize humans
6. Continuous delivery of value
7. A common purpose perfectly synchronized with OKR
8. Maximum autonomy and self-responsibility
1. Leaders who do not show their back to customers.
Leaders and teams that regularly close their computers and “get out of the building” to practice Genchi Genbutsu: to talk face-to-face to real people, potential customers, at their Gemba to deeply understand their problems or concerns. This is in stark contrast to the common view of tech people sitting in an office, dreaming up and creating products or services that they think or assume people might buy.
2. Teams performing product tests in the market
as early as possible, using Minimum Viable Products to (in)validate that their products or services are actually solving a problem that customers are willing to pay for.
as fast as everyone is able to and consequently makes small adjustments (or major “pivots”) when the product, the company’s business model or the organizational setup are not succeeding.
Using an iterative design and improvement cycle, the Create-Measure- Learn loop, to continuously improve by data, customer as well as employee feedback and analytical rigor. This organizational obsession for learning includes the belief that all workers need to be safe to fail but at the same time make sure that they have the capacity to succeed. Therefore, the focus is not on failing (as it seems to be trendy saying today) but rather on avoiding large failures by taking a lot of small ones, embracing them as learning opportunities to shape major successes.
4. Collective engagement on problem solving and organizational intolerance to problem hiding.
These agile organizations are built on the belief that “we need to find problems quickly so we can solve them, making everyone an expert problem solver”. Exponential organizations in particular see and solve problems faster than any other organization by having everybody engaged in performing experiments that solve the real problems.
for the humanity of their associates make it evident in multiple ways: they
– challenge people´s intellects to embrace discomfort and always become a
better version of themselves,
– do not blame individuals for problems due to the system,
– make sure their people do not waste years of their lives working on
You can also clearly recognize this in leaders who continuously ask themselves: How do we enable people to grow by innovating and developing ever better products for the customers?
6. Continuous delivery of value:
this means updating products, software or services in small batches, reducing the time required to bring new features to the software, services or products for the customers while reducing the risk involved.
7. A common purpose perfectly synchronized with OKR (Objectives and Key Results)
through the various self-organized teams in the organizations. Companies´ OKR provide the teams with the guidance required to build their missions and their own OKR. They also guide them in aligning the dependencies and building the collaborative routines to make these dependencies function during the value creating work.
8. Maximum autonomy and self-responsibility
that can be recognized and observed in each team and individual. Autonomy is visible in deep technical mastery that gives both the individuals and the teams the capability to deliver value and impact for the common purpose reflected in the OKR of both teams and companies.
Accountability is easily recognized in a “Think like owners” mindset. It becomes obvious in those daily decisions that are made “in camera” where customers are put at the center and being cost-aware makes all the difference.
Eight common traits – eight keys to unlock the door to become an Agile High-Performance Organization having YOUR very own look but also requiring your commitment to learn, experiment and disrupt what you thought was a fine strategy planning. Take the responsibility to get the power to outperform competitors and to survive in an era of exponential change. A nice side effect: Agile High-Performance Organizations are leading in their industries.