“Agile” is not just for software development, it’s for the whole business

Steve Denning’s Forbes essay Understanding Fake Agile is the most useful thing I’ve read about the state of Agile in a long time. It starts off extremely strong, with his “three laws of Agile”:

  • The Law of the Customer — an obsession with delivering value to customers as the be-all and end-all of the organization.
  • The Law of the Small Team — a presumption that all work be carried out by small self-organizing teams, working in short cycles and focused on delivering value to customers—and
  • The Law of the Network — a continuing effort to obliterate bureaucracy and top-down hierarchy so that the firm operates as an interacting network of teams, all focused on working together to deliver increasing value to customers.

Note that there’s no mention of software in those laws. This goes way beyond the original Agile Manifesto, and the idea that Agile is for software only:

But restricting agile to software development becomes a problem. When agile thinking takes over software development in a traditionally managed organization, it inevitably begins to run into conflict with other parts of the organization that are moving less rapidly and less flexibly.

This is how you get organizations that follow an agile process for their development process, while the rest of the organization still operates in silos. Steve discusses many of the other misconceptions and problems with Agile in his post.