Agile long-term

Some of you who recognise ‘Dilbert’ (Scott Adams’s famous cartoon character) may remember the ‘Bungee Boss’. As a reminder, the boss showed up just long enough to make some visible changes that improved some key business indicators in  the short term. He was instantly promoted and moved onwards and upwards before the negative, long-term impacts of his ill-informed changes took effect. Not what I would call agile long-term.

In our agile world, where the attention span of consumers is shrinking;

How can we ensure the ‘right’ things happen so we are agile long-term?

Outside the retail consumer markets I suggest we do want stable, low risk, high resilience, long-term programmes. For example in the safety and security domains we probably expect some people to be acting in a very long-term way all of the time. Nuclear power generation, retail banking, bridge design. Any area where we have no choice but to put our daily safety and security into the hands of others who we don’t know, can’t see and who rely on knowledge that we don’t understand.

What does ‘agile’ have to offer us in the long-term strategy and governance domain?

Agile development methods can deliver fast-turnaround (sometimes limited quality) productivity in response to market changes. Just see the press for the daily battle between App-based businesses for the consumer £. The same benefits (principally rapid response) that drive the adoption of agile methods in product and service development also accrue in the strategy and governance domain. Linear planning methods, often based around business cycles (e.g. 5 year plan, 3 year plan, annual business plan) work well for businesses with a stable, protected environment. But organisations still need to be able to react quickly to events and failure to do so can be catastrophic.

How do we stop the Head of Safety at your local nuclear power station from being a bungee boss?

  • Make sure there are no prospects for promotion?
  • Make sure the reward and recognition programme does not recognise short-term performance improvements that are at the expense of long-term indicators?
  • Micro-assure everything that they do?
  • Only recruit managers with no ambition?
  • Imbue them with very strong ethical values such that integrity and social responsibility transcend personal gain?
  • Forbid them to innovate?
  • Restrict them to operating within a strict process framework that includes sufficient scrutiny and review activity to prevent short-term proposals from making it through the decision-making framework?

Hmmm… this list actually sounds like some business situations I have come across 🙁

Some argue for a hybrid methodology.

E.g. Agile projects within a more ‘waterfall’ style programme. Indeed some years ago I designed governance frameworks to support DSDM (agile work packages) within a PRINCE2 project management context. This can work well but there is a risk of one style ‘leaking’ across into the other domain unless there is a good understanding of why both approaches are being actively balanced.

My answer is to build ‘diversity’ into governance.

To be agile long-term we need both;

  • Solid stable, logical, rational processes that evolve and
  • Insight and inspiration driven experiments and prototypes to try out new ideas and ways of working.

We can use ‘governance’ to lock in processes, behaviours and attitudes that make us agile long-term. But doing it with documents alone will not be successful. I believe that you have to ‘exercise’ the governance framework ‘often’ so that people understand the processes, why they add value, how they add value and when they add value…

 

In Business Decision Design® we establish the minimum formality in governance required to protect the business, the individuals in it and its stakeholders. We ensure that it is actively used and adapted in an agile way to enable the business to be successful.

Link to this weeks cover picture…

I hope you are having a fine week.

Nigel

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