There is a LOT to learn about Agile. There is so much that looks great on paper but falls short in practice of the ideals it is meant to deliver. When we think about Agile, we need to consider that it is NOT a prescriptive solution.

So much time is wasted on debating definitions of Agile and how it should be applied. What is not being considered is the fact that Agile, like any other framework, method or approach, should be applied in doses as required for the situation an organisation is in.

Here is where Situational Agility, the idea that organisations (and people alike) need to have the ability to efficiently adapt depending on the situation at hand, comes in. It requires an organisation and their people to be flexible; looking at short-term wins for longer-term gains.

Practical Execution over Prescriptive Frameworks

There are a lot of problems with organisations trying to implement Agile including trying to apply prescriptive frameworks rather than thinking about their practical execution. Like any method, approach or framework, Agile has a multitude of principles, processes and tools that make it what it is. The problem is that most organisations are taking it as gospel and applying it exactly as it is perceived or as they’ve seen applied elsewhere. What happens as a result is waste; the idea that, for example, a stand-up MUST be held in a specific manner otherwise it’s not Agile. Furthermore, arguing what a stand up should be, as it is open to interpretation like all agile ceremonies.

Interaction versus Content

Don’t get me wrong, there are some principles of Agile that MUST be followed, but they need to be applied dynamically depending on the maturity, culture, and experience of an organisation. For example, when we think about basic road rules, there are specified limitations to what you can do on the road, but that doesn’t stop you from driving differently to how others would drive. You’re free to go in whatever direction you wish to get to your destination, drive a little slower than others, change lanes, etc.

Forgetting the Agile Core Values

All too often the core values of Agile, proclaimed by the Agile Manifesto are ignored. It is important to note that, whilst intended for software development, which has been evolved since its release in 2001, are still very much applicable today. They are:

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
Working software over Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation
Responding to Change over Following a Plan

When we think about some of these core values are applied, there is no specific rules around what software, or how you respond to change. It’s a very open and free-flowing; value that provides you with some guidance on how to embrace Agile. Underlying this, it’s really talking about applying to your situation although not specifically called out as such.

Agile vs agile

When talking about ‘Agile’ and ‘agile’, I am referring to Agile as the application of Agile principles in the form of a method/framework, and agile as how it is traditionally defined, all about agility.

If you truly understand what Agile is about, you will know that being Agile is to NOT be prescriptive. Agile alone is not going to drive the outcomes you desire, because it takes out the human component, the element of people power, that is people in your organisation drive the changes you are trying to make, they also make or break your culture.

agile enables you to introduce things such as transparency, proactiveness, dexterous, consistency, these are irrelevant of the Agile framework you choose to follow. agile will help you bridge the gaps, top to bottom across the organisation.

So, what is Situational agility: what it is and what does it mean?

To talk about agile is to talk about the behaviours which support Agile. The supporting culture of the organisation, the experience of the people, and building an appetite for continuous change or evolution. I believe becoming situationally agile means to be adaptable to the situation at hand, to be flexible and to work dynamically within the organisation to rapidly implement change that fits with the above organisational and behavioural profile. It includes the ability to rapidly implement in the short-term for long-term wins.

What are the requirements for being Situationally agile?

The requirements for being situationally agile include culture, using experience of the people, building good behaviours and setting expectations and sparking an appetite for change. Organisations need to be able to respond more effectively to the dynamic and evolving nature of their organisations, being adaptable and flexible to stay competitive; doing so proactively.

Applying situational agility to improve success in an organisation

Remember that situational agility is largely behaviour-driven! If you want to be successful in applying or becoming agile, you need to understand that your people work differently, and they may need to be taken on the journey. Remember that you’re essentially asking them to, in some cases, throw away everything they’ve ever learned or ways in which they’ve worked and apply a completely new set of behaviours, processes and tools.

Some of the ideas I’ve seen payback in dividends includes:

  • Mentoring and Coaching: removing ambiguity and setting expectations
  • Feedback loops: is it working or not? Do we need to try something else?
  • Working as ONE: find commonalities, driving stronger organisational outcomes

Working out what works for you and fast-decisioning

In order to work out what works for you, start with your people – what works with some doesn’t work with others, you need to be open to failures along the way, otherwise you will not learn. With Trial and Error, is one of the best ways to learn. If you don’t try something, how will you know if it works until you try it. Obviously applying this with risk mitigation lens in place.

Breaking the silos

From an organisational governance lens, where I spend most of my time, I can tell you that the most important part of my role and what helps drive success after success in application of the AMO Method© and the Agile Management Office way of working, is through our approach of breaking through the silos and helping bring delivery and non-delivery people on the journey. After all, without your people, you don’t have a business; so why not allow them to be collaboratively involved?

Impacts of not applying situational agility

If we don’t take the time to think about how we can be more situationally agile, we risk hurting our organisations. Smart organisations understand this. Not done well, you risk impacting your teams, your culture and your chance at ‘trying again’. In the space of governance and the Project Management Office, Agile is causing a lot of distress. PMO teams are not ready for this change and I don’t blame them. As all the focus is on the delivery teams, they are getting all the training, the coaching, the support whilst PMOs are getting left behind. You can read more about this in our AMO White Paper by subscribing via http://www.agilemanagementoffice.com.