As the global pandemic continues to accelerate change and sort out the effective from the ineffective organizations, the need for institutional agility is everywhere evident. In government, shocking discrepancies between countries in terms of public health performance often combine with clumsy top-down dictates that create deep public frustration at inept institutional performance.
In the private sector, Agile firms that find themselves in favorably situated sectors have forged even further ahead and generated unprecedented market capitalizations, while firms still practicing 20th Century management have struggled, and in many cases, have fallen by the wayside.
It is timely therefore that the World Agility Forum, taking place this coming weekend mainly online from Lisbon Portugal, will convene a colloquy on the global agility movement. In the past, Agile conferences have tended to bring together the supporters of particular frameworks or tools, and to dwell on their merits. These events were sometimes like echo chambers that did little more than re-confirm participants’ existing assumptions.
An Alliance Of Alliances
Now the World Agility Forum is convening many different kinds of participants to form what its director, Hugo Lourenco, calls “an alliance of alliances” of those who share a common vision, related to three core principles and values of 21st Century management. First, the goal of the organization concerns an obsession with creating value for the customer; profits are the result, not the goal. Secondly, work is structured so as to draw on the full talents of those doing the work, often with self-organizing teams working in short cycles, delivering value to customers. Third, the dynamic of the firms is a network of competence, rather than a top-down hierarchy of authority. The organization is ultimately about people helping other people.
These principles and values need to reflect the prevailing mindset of the organization, in effect, its DNA. It’s about what the firm actually does, not necessarily what the management says it is doing or should be doing. It’s about why the firm acts the way it does. The principles or values imply not only doing things differently: they imply thinking differently.
Some of the speakers are the traditional software developers whose vision is rooted in the Agile Manifesto of 2001. Some come from the group of companies that Professors Annika Steiber and Sverker Alänge call in their book, “The Silicon Valley Model” (Springer, 2016): these firms, like Google and Amazon, tend to use their own home-grown label, rather than “Agile.” Some come from outside the software field altogether and have found their own path to the common vision. Some come from consulting or from academia. The participants come from every part of the world. What they share is a common vision and a common set of principles and values.
The World Agility Forum is convening these participants so that they can learn from each other not only what they have in common, but also how they can enhance each other’s practice. The Forum aims to set aside questions of labeling and definitions and focus on the core substantive question: what is the best way for people to get organizational results in the world of 2020?
A Conversation With The Director, Hugo Lourenco
This week, I spoke with Hugo Lourenco, the director of the World Agility Forum, about the upcoming conference and his concept of “an alliance of alliances.”
Steve Denning: I understand that the World Agility Forum is seeking to have a broader scope and is going beyond bringing together the faithful of the Agile software community. What’s going on?
Hugo Lourenco: In the World Agility Forum, we have a vision, based on: what is the meaning of Agile for everyone? That’s because Agile has tended to fragment into separate brands and has come to be a prefix or suffix rather than an idea in itself. So we set out to have a common understanding of what the movement is about. That was the trigger of this broadening.
We also knew from research that the failure rates for simple alliances is around 60-70%, which isn’t promising. By contrast, we saw that when there is “an alliance of alliances” the failure rate is only 20-25%. We looked at the missions of the different Agile alliances and we saw that they were quite close to each other. So at least there seemed to be a common purpose.
Denning: What is an alliance of alliances?
Lourenco: We don’t have a business plan. What we have is a common purpose. We are trying to embrace the differences. We are trying to model and enable collaborative behavior. We are holding the conference mainly on-line and it will be followed by monthly webinars organized by the speakers. This will mean that we need to work together. Everybody will have a place. Each of the alliances will be able to do a monthly webinar aligned with the overall goal. We will have some alliance metrics, still to be defined, so that we can see whether we are making progress. We want to see that we are making a difference for government, for private enterprises, and for individuals.
We want to do masterclasses where attendees will focus on understanding how management on the 21st century can flourish, not just choosing a framework or a tool. We want to ensure that business schools, colleges, and other programs can enable this new way of managing, for a new generation, for a new era.
We recognize that there will be differences among the participants. We want to leverage the differences and use them to create learning and new value. So if some entities agree to disagree, that’s ok. We need to make differences valuable for everyone. If we are curious and willing to listen, we can learn from the differences and all improve. That’s what we mean by leadership. The different communities and the people that are part of those communities will be encouraged to embrace collaborative behavior. We want to emphasize that any individual or organization can be part of this alliance of alliances.
Denning: In the past, I didn’t always observe collaborative behavior among the alliances. Why are they now coming together in a common forum? How did this happen?
Lourenco: Some of the forces are economic. Today, the freelancer’s market is much wider than it was 10 years ago. So today, if you want an expert in something, you just search on LinkedIn. You hire that person directly for three to six months, or one year. You teach the people in your company. Yet all of us belong to the same Agile tribe. We don’t want things being managed as they were in the 20th century. Most of the time, we make things worse when we start building fences and barriers. We need to nurture the tribe’s common purpose, rather than defending our separate certifications or our different frameworks, business plans, or business models.
What was going on with these old Agile communities and conferences was that they were too polarized and forgetting the common ground. People lost sight of the common purpose. This is why the “alliance of alliances” doesn’t have a business model. It’s not about making a profit. What we have is a common purpose. People believe and agree. We belong to the same tribe. We talk to the same people. We understand. We enjoy hanging out together. We will have fun attending the webinars. We will join together once or twice a year. We will make workshops together and be sure that what we are teaching is really what is needed for the 21st century and not doing a master of business administration where the focus is only on efficiency and financial returns.
Denning: In the past there has also been hostility to bringing in people from outside the tribe, people who didn’t call themselves Agile, who didn’t wear an Agile badge, who didn’t have an Agile certification, or even those who were hostile to the very term, “Agile.” How is it they are now coming to, and even speaking at, the Forum?
Lourenco: The World Agility Forum is about how we take care of the workplace, the workplace of the future, and how people engage. Anyone who can positively contribute to that goal is welcome. So bringing those people from outside of what had become “the Agile echo chamber” brings fresh life and energy to the discussion.
Having their understanding and having different approaches can be really valuable even if they’re using different terms. Yet this is something that we will need to work at. So we need to go beyond thinking that if you don’t have a particular certification or use a particular terminology, then you don’t understand.
Denning: As the group expands, is there a risk that the spirit of Agile will be lost? I mean, one of the things that was striking to me at some of these conferences and workplaces is that there’s a spirit and a sense that this work is meaningful and useful. For once in their life, people seem to feel like they are involved in something worthwhile. Is there a risk that as we broaden this horizon and bring in new players, that we will lose that spirit?
Lourenco: We look at it as an onion. Some people want Agile to be more visible with even less impact, while others want higher impact even if it is less visible. For a long time, there have been debates about tools and practices but those debates are losing relevance.
There are many things still to explore. For us, the blue ocean is the values and the principles. We are doing what we preach. So first we start with the “why”. We begin with a vision and then go to the “how” and the “what”. What are the principles, the values, and the practices? If a firm is investing a couple of million dollars in an Agile transformation from whatever they were before now, it should be related to the Agile mission, purpose, and values. It should be related to an Agile way of working, an Agile way of delivering value to the customer. And we don’t see that as much as we should. It’s often more about the tools and practices. What we want is to get to the blue ocean of the principles, the values, and the vision. Any individual or organization can be part of this alliance of alliances.
The World Agility Forum will take place online on Saturday September 26 and Sunday September 27. Details of the program and registration are here.
And read also:
What 21st Management Looks Like