Agility in three: Setting up for success

22 January

There is a lot of confusion around agility and the implementation of agility at the moment. My theory is that since there is money in helping organisations learn “how to do agile” there is money to be made in making a specific agility framework, trademarking it, creating training courses and then selling them. Bonus round money comes from being a consultant in that specific framework too!

Simple is not easy!

I hope to enable more organisations to move into the future with courage and purpose by outlining three simple stages to agility, and sharing the understanding or wisdom (the “why”) behind these stages. Each stage will be defined, each stage has its key elements or attributes articulated and each stage is related to the other stages to build the holistic approach needed to understand and apply modern working practices.

This will be a series of three posts to break up the reading a bit, and also to allow you to think it through, and maybe give each step a go! Then you can come back for the next step!

Agility as an approach requires, in my opinion, three focus areas:

  1. Setting up for success

  2. Keep moving and learning

  3. Problem-solving

The core of agility is problem-solving and decision making. This means working with the right people, in the right way, at the right time. By understanding and controlling these factors an organisation can move from chaotic agility to streamlined modern working practices very quickly.


Stage 1: Setting up for success

This is the first stage that an organisation needs to focus on. Ensuring a solid foundation for working practices with clear alignment on goals and what “value” means for the organisation, the teams can focus on the delivery of meaningful outcomes and establishing powerful working practices.


Orient the team - understand the difference between the current and future state.

The first objective for setting up for success is to orient the teams. Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of proposed goals and outcomes — this allows people to understand the difference between the “now” (current state) and the “next” (future state). Once that difference is understood, the teams can start to plan the “how” of getting to the future. But like every great explorer, the challenge is not in knowing the destination, it’s about figuring out how to get there. To orient the team, leaders need to share clearly articulated long and short term goals, key milestones and any constraints that exist.

Identify all the elements required for “value” delivery. Once the goals and outcomes are understood, the team needs to also understand all of the elements that are required to be delivered for true “value” to be achieved. This requires a holistic view of the organisation, what value looks like to everyone, and a willingness to break down traditional silos and create end-to-end value stream relationships. This means teams will need to collaborate and work together to build definitions of done that not only encompass the end-to-end delivery of value, but also the top to bottom organisational elements that also need to be delivered to achieve value for the whole organisation.

A useful approach is to follow the adage “start with the end in mind” and work your way back to now, starting at the destination or outcomes. Describe the successful outcome vividly, in full, from everyone’s perspective, then identify the steps needed to achieve this success. Visibility of planning, transparency and working to a shared, common calendar are the effective and efficient ways to achieve this.


Powerful, meaningful, prioritisation - establish the prioritisation criteria.

Once all the work needed to be done has been identified, and this has been validated as delivering the required value for the organisation, the work has to be prioritised. The first step here is to establish the prioritisation criteria or the decision-making framework that can be applied to all work. The known work is then pushed through this decision-making framework to validate the framework and get clear alignment from all teams on what needs to happen, and when it needs to happen. The ideal is to create explicit policies that are shared widely. This helps everyone understand the decisions that have been made, and ensure consistent goal alignment through the ongoing decision-making processes.

The other aspect of powerful prioritisation is a clear understanding of the trade-offs involved. Every choice to do one piece of work means other pieces of work need to remain undone, as a group the organisation needs to understand this and accept it. Unless this acceptance happens the organisation will pull against itself and remove the alignment and focus of its teams. Every organisation has finite time, teams and capacity and the key to staying in business is to have alignment of these elements to the desired goals and outcomes.


Visualise the work - make the planned work available and consumable.

It may seem old school, but creating kanban-style walls, tracking the work from organisation/enterprise level through to team level is one of the most powerful ways to align on value and discover where teams may be missing information or be misaligned on values or priorities. By making the planned work available and consumable to all we can identify any misalignment, missing work, or even missing teams!

Once an organisation has set itself up for success then they have to convert theory (the plan) into action (delivery)! This is where true value is delivered and learning occurs. This will be covered in 'Keep Moving and Learning (Step 2).'


Posted by Sharon Robson.