How Agile thinking could avoid a crisis

Amanda Fajak

Whether you voted leave or remain, 80% of us now agree that Brexit is a shambles.

There are much smarter people than me reflecting on why exactly that is the case and I am sure only history will have the answer. 

But, ever the optimist, I believe we can learn from this right now and I want to share with you one lens which provides important insights for those in business.

Agile organisations in a crisis 
Let me ask you this. How many times in organisations have you seen or experienced the following:

  • A request from a customer/Project team/Board to deliver a project /strategy
  • You form a team, do the hard work and deliver the project after 2 years (hopefully with fanfare and celebration), only to have people say…
    • ‘That’s not what I thought we were going to get’
    • ‘Oh, I don’t need that anymore!’
    • ‘The people that requested that aren’t here, they have moved on and I have different needs’
    • ‘Our customers have changed and therefore that won’t work now’
    • ‘Our competitors delivered that 12 months ago, we need something more now’

Recognise this in your business life?

Recognise this in what you are hearing and reading about the Brexit deal? Negotiated over two years behind closed doors with the EU, in isolation of any consultation, with a mantra only of ‘Brexit means Brexit’.

This is what would be described in business as a classic waterfall approach to delivering a project. We are seeing traditional command and control principles at play:

  • Someone told me to do this
  • I know best and therefore have all the answers
  • I must appear infallible
  • We need to keep this secret – they can’t cope with the truth
  • I can’t let my competitors (other parties) have any input
  • Once I get it over the line everyone will just have to live with it

We know this is flawed.  So now imagine if instead Brexit had set out with these more Agile principles at play:

  • This is not a party issue, it is about the whole country, so we will reach out across parties and hear all ideas
  • We are not just going to deliver a project, we are going to use this to create and work towards a new shared vision for this country
  • It’s not ‘I’, it’s ‘We’. We have a divided country and we must bring them together
  • We really don’t understand exactly what people want – we can have a guess but we are not quite sure – so we are going to listen. We are going to really understand what people are telling us
  • We are also going to keep listening as our demographic and the external environment will change over the next two years (new people will be voting, some will die, some will become parents and some will change their mind, plus the world also moves on).
  • We will test and experiment with ideas to get reactions to options early so we can adapt our thinking and actions iteratively around what works and doesn’t work for our constituents (customers).

Imagine what unleashing customer-centricity, collaboration, curiosity, listening and experimentation might have gained us?

Would this have helped our politicians embrace abundance over scarcity? And how often do business leaders find themselves in similar predicaments heading straight over the waterfall?


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