Agile Schmagile-Executive, This One’s For You

Executive – you can’t lead a digital transformation if you haven’t transformed yourself.

I’m going to be very direct with you, Executive. We have no time to sit here pretending you understand Agile, when I’m hearing you clearly don’t. I’m on your side, you know. I truly want to help you learn this, so we can get on leading healthy agile transformations together. And get some results. According to research, you, Executive and Manager, are the biggest blockers of true agile ways of working across the organization.

Tired of Agile?

Do you have internal and external consultants and coaches running around helping your organization “go agile”? Are the people learning Scrum and delivering “faster”? Are you skeptical about the jargon including self-organizing teams, experimentation and the hype about teams being able to guide themselves towards value adding work, without middle management? Is your first thought that agile is something done in software development and IT, that it does not influence you in traditional business operations? Are you not seeing the true increased value output from your organization’s “agile transformation”? How much have you invested on your transformation up until now? Any visible results? Not yet? Are you getting the feeling that “agile does not work”?

That might be because you are not truly transforming. You are just implementing “agile” in your current industrial system. This approach is like pouring oil into water. They don’t mix very well, no matter how you shake it, and no matter how you appoint a trendy hipster CDO to care for the “transformation”.

It is YOU, executive, who must learn this deeply, and you who need to transform first.

You, you & YOU!

I would dare to suggest, you might be skeptical towards agile, because you haven’t really understood the core of it. You might think it is a management fad that will pass, that it’s  about “self organization” and “letting go of decision making power” or creating a “culture of innovation”. Or you’ve heard that it’s about some “fluffy people stuff”, but the hard-core business management needs to be run as is. You might think agile is just something you use in “digital tools and technology”. Maybe you feel that you don’t have to learn about digitalization that much,  because you know how to lead a business. (OMG. Please retire soon.)

I have three words for you, who believe you don’t have to learn this deeply.




So what is it then?

Agile is nothing new. The foundations for Agile start in 1986 in an industrial setting in Japan, and get adopted into software development in the 90’s. The software industry has been allowed to let agile mature “under the management consulting radar” (until now), so the agile methods and ways of working have been continuously developed and today form a somewhat holistic operations model for business operations. Research into traditional waterfall project management vs. agile project management brings pretty robust evidence that Agile operation models lead to higher productivity, shorter lead times of projects and innovation.

Agile is another structure, another system than what you are used to. It is all about creating a whole new system of how business and work works. The underlying values, mindset, principles and human view is almost the opposite in agile, compared to the ones the current industrial management practices are built on. The whole way of managing the business ad doing the actual work is different. The way you plan, budget, report, follow up will change (or should). The mandates and roles will change and you will see new organization forms take place (or should). Your way of leading teams or units must change. The way of being a team member should and will change. The way of working in support functions will change. All of the structures that you as an executive are responsible setting up should change for the agile part of the organization.

Test yourself:

Think about your management principles as a “management technology”, a code inside your head, that influences your every business decision. “This is how we do things here”. Now, if you truly understand Agile you should be able to answer the following questions.

  • Why and how does agile budgeting differ from traditional budgeting?
    If you don’t know the answer to this one, how can you lead an agile unit or transformation?
  • Why is mid management’s role changing dramatically in agile organizations?
    If your mind is not clear on this question, then how can you plan an operative model to support digital work and agile frameworks?
  • What kind of methods do we have available to kill initiatives and prioritize, and how do they differ from methods used in the industrial setting?
    If your leadership team is not actively prioritizing across the operations (not in silos) you are not working in an agile mode.
  • Have we done merciless capacity based strategic prioritization, that hurts and blows our brains up in the executive team or Board?
    If we haven’t , we are not doing agile.
  • Can you point out the mismatch in your performance management and incentive programs regarding agile work?
    If you can’t, your “management code” and performance management will be outdated for agile.
  • What are the problems coming up in your business operations resulting from the full transparency in agile?
    If you can’t pinpoint these immediately, you will not be able to react as a leader to problems and behavioral issues rising because of the transparency.


How did you do? If you don’t know the new rules of the agile system, if you can’t answer  these 6 questions, you haven’t learned enough of Agile and Digital transformations to actually be in charge of leading it. Unfortunately you will not be able to support it by creating supporting structures and management processes, which means you are an active blocker of the agile operations. And your company wastes valuable time. Not on purpose, of course. But because of adhering to the industrial operations management “code” you have been so used to. Management decision making. Planning upfront. Hierarchic organization. This code was taught to us during the past 100 years in companies and business management theory. It is not your fault. You have been succeeding in your career because of this “code”, but it is getting outdated as we speak.

Get ready to face the future

Executive. I’m on your side. Futureproof yourself. Update the “business logic code” in your leadership team or Board, so you understand both the industrial and the agile system. You have to learn this. If you sit on a Board of directors, on a Company Board, if you lead a business unit, a strategy implementation, a change program office, a project portfolio – you have to sit your butt down for a couple of days and start learning how the business logic and operations differs from what you are used to. Trained by trainers who don’t want to please you because of your status, but who have the guts to stretch and challenge you to create the learning that is necessary.

You are smart. Once you “get” the fundamental way of thinking and internalize the differences to the industrial management paradigm, you will be able to start leading and performing – supporting both the traditional (industrial) part of your operations AND the agile part of the operations. You will be able to lead the agile portfolio in your leadership team and create management structures allowing high performance and innovation. You will be able to experiment and lead stepwise change, and simultaneously feel that it is under control. You will be able to navigate the growing complexity of your business.

This opinion is backed up by a lot of Agile research, for example the annual State of Agile report.
Thank you for reading, and I hope I did not upset you with being direct. I’m on your side, and we have no time to waste on pretending we are dong agile transformation, right?



We are currently developing a program “Agile for Boards”.

If you truly want to learn about this, take out 3-4 full days with your Company Board or Board or Executives during a half year, get in touch. We only want to work with Boards who are serious about investing the time and money into this. Get in touch with People Geeks if your Board needs to change towards agile and digital operative models! If you are in a situation where one-on-one learning sessions would work better, that is also possible.

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