Bring Agile beyond IT

06 December

In the nearly fifteen years since the Agile Manifesto was written, Agile software development has slowly and steadily become the most prevalent approach to building software. The values and principles of the Agile manifesto have been an inspiration to software development teams across a multitude of industries. The practices and techniques that align with these values and principles have resulted in better project outcomes, higher customer satisfaction, more engaged team members and higher quality products

So, in software development, we are definitely getting the benefit of these modern approaches to product development.  What about the non-IT areas of our businesses, do these ideas also apply in marketing or finance, what about customer service?  The reality is that yes, agile ideas can and do work in almost every area of our organisations today.  Forbes magazine calls Agile the “The Best-Kept Management Secret on the Planet” and talks about how organisations that adopt Agile thinking are achieving benefits such as improved time to market and increased customer satisfaction (customer delight!) with their products and services.  Harvard Business Review encourages us to “Bring Agile to the Whole Organization” and talks about the changes that will be needed to embrace an adaptive, responsive, creative way of working.

At SoftEd we have worked with many organisations helping them bring Agile thinking and practices into their way of working, mainly in the information technology areas but more and more frequently we are working with teams outside of IT helping them adapt the ideas to their specific context.  This has included insurance and banking product design, medical device prototyping, people engagement & talent management, finance and accounting, building hardware devices, business process improvement and even radio crystal cutting.

What all these areas have in common is the reliance on human creativity and innovation for success – they are knowledge worker areas of the business and they face tough problems, ones in which the solution is not clear and simple, rather solving the problems they face requires lateral thinking, ingenuity and collaboration between people with different skillsets.  This is where the commonality with software development lies – the types of problem are similar, so it is possible to apply the same type of thinking that has been successful in software development to tackle the challenges faced in other areas of the organisation.

Let’s start with the Agile Manifesto – the founding statement and set of guiding principles of the Agile software development movement.  The value statement from the manifesto reads:


Manifesto for Agile software development

We are uncovering better ways of developing

software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,

Working software over comprehensive documentation,

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation,

Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while we value the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.


So, how can we adapt this to apply outside of software development – what would the impact be of a small change, replacing “software” with “solutions” – how does it read then?


Manifesto for Agile solution development

We are uncovering better ways of developing

solutions by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,

Working solutions over comprehensive documentation,

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation,

Responding to change over following a plan.

That is, while we value the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.


This feels fine – as someone working in pretty much any area of a business I can buy in to these values and feel comfortable about working in ways that align with these statements.

The social, technical, political and business environment today is in a state of VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

“A rapidly evolving, dynamic, chaotic complex business environment is the norm rather than the exception” - David Sypnieski  

To cope in a VUCA world our ways of working have to adapt, decisions need to be made faster, we need to be constantly learning new things, getting feedback quickly from the marketplace and acting on what we learn.  We need to be able to respond to the change around us faster than the rate at which the change is happening.  This requires that we adopt new ways of thinking about work and turn many of our traditional management practices on their heads.

Decision making needs to be as close to the point of customer engagement as possible – this means empowering people to make decisions and not requiring them to go through many layers of management approval before acting.  This also means we have to ensure that the people who interact with our customers truly understand the organisation’s goals and objectives, that their decisions are in line with the intent and strategy of the organisation.  Management must be able to articulate goals and strategy clearly and consistently so that it becomes a beacon which guides actions all across the value stream.

Our employment processes need to change – the skills and capabilities needed in today’s workplaces are different to what made us successful in the past.  The emphasis needs to be on collaboration, problem solving, teamwork and creativity – what Richard Sheridan (author of Joy, Inccalls “kindergarten skills”.  Technical skill and knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient.  Because the way we do work is changing so fast, the ability to learn is one of the most important characteristics we need to employ for today.  We need to change our reward structures, instead of forcing people to compete against each other we need to have incentive systems that reward collaborative behaviours and are related to the outcome of their work, not the activities they perform.

Our approach to funding and financing initiatives has to undergo a radical rethink.  In a complex, uncertain environment it is impossible to allocate funding 12 months in advance – we don’t know what opportunities are opening up tomorrow, we have no idea how the competitive landscape will change in the next three months, yet we ask managers to identify their budget needs 12 to 18 months in advance, and then penalise them for guessing wrong.  In his HBR article Jeff Gothelf says

“Unpredictable levels of complexity, market turmoil, and shifts in customer behaviour put any product roadmap longer than four to six weeks at a high risk of quickly becoming an outdated artefact”.

Ideas such as Beyond Budgeting have shown that taking a completely different approach can result in much higher return on investment as initiatives get funded for the value they produce, and are constantly revaluated as they deliver incrementally.

The Stoos Network presents a credible alternate approach to management that is based on creating healthy, productive workplaces, rebuilding trust in business and creating better outcomes for all through approaches such as

  • Shared value built into decision making
  • Highly networked, decentralized decision making
  • Recycle, reuse, renew resources
  • Partner with Community
  • Ask Nature. Learn innovative technologies.

Our organisations need to become learning centres, rapidly responding to the new realities and adapting processes, practices, products and our people in response to the feedback we get from within and outside.  Taking a Kai Zen (change for good) approach to exploring what we can improve, what we can discard, what we should change in every aspect of our business.

Futurist and author Alvin Toffler puts it succinctly:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Our organisations and the people in them need to become adept at learning, unlearning and relearning.


Post by Shane Hastie

Thank you!

Your details have been submitted and we will be in touch.