By this point in the hype cycle, I believe I can safely assume that most people reading this article are familiar with the Agile Manifesto - so I won't dig into the nitty gritty of what Agile is. Suffice to say that, even if it has grown out of Agile teams, Agile can be applied to any team.
Instead, I would like to explain an often overlooked business benefit, which I believe leads to all the other benefits that we are familiar with from reading Agile Transformation business cases: happiness. Agile, and effectively the democratisation of decision and rule making, is essential to the achievement of human fulfillment and happiness as it has been described in the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
Think about it - you need to ensure that people feel safe enough to speak up and make mistakes.
They need to feel the belonging of working with a group of like-minded individuals chasing the same goal, the self-esteem that grows from setting and achieving your own targets (and getting the recognition for that) and the actualisation that can only come from suggesting improvements and following through by enhancing your skill set to improve your ability to add value as part of a team, and the team's ability to add value to the customer's life. But at the same time, you are running a business, so all this needs to be done in a controlled way to enable the entire organisation to derive business value, outputting results in the form of happy customers. How can you do that? Agile. It touches all these bases.
Working in an Agile fashion can enable every single individual within the team/squad/scrum to decide how to do what, we must assume, they like to do and were hired to do. It reduces friction by clearly setting expectations, it enables people to work in their own way. It gives the people working in this manner the tools required to create their own happiness. And, as logic dictates, happy employees focused on delivering results together should generate the highest possible likelihood of satisfying and keeping customers happy- and happy customers spend the money that allows the employees to continue happily working.
But enough with the theories - let's get practical.
How does Agile help an organisation achieve those things? What is the secret? What is the key? I strongly believe it is purely about empowering. It is about blocking those thoughts and processes that enforce authority and decisions coming from the top, about having a close-knit team with the necessary skills to be able to function like a small company by itself. It must be able to run profit and loss, have it's own rules, manage it's customers, make commercial proposals and add value in whichever way it knows best. Anything that the team relies on to function should be done by a member of the team, or at least with their close involvement. It does not matter whether you work in SaFe, Scrum, Scrum at Scale, Kanban, Scrumban, or some methodology that your company has made up along the way.
The values don't change. The principles stay the same.
The team must set it's own rules. No member of the team should have a louder voice than another in this process. The customer representative must be part of the team. The team must retrospect- and regularly so. the customer must respect the team's rules, so long as those rules offer the flexibility that the client requires to achieve their goals. There must be no intermediaries preventing honest communication and the subsequent continued negotiation and improvement of those rules. The team must aim to improve to keep up with the market and the needs of the customer, and it's own individuals' self-actualisation need. It's in the interest of the team members themselves. And, most importantly, the team must be small enough for everyone to understand and deeply relate to what each member is doing in pursuit of the team's target. This helps us all to understand each other's value and creates the right conditions for a respectful and appreciative environment.
As it is essential for a team to be able to meet the expectations of the customer, it is in turn also essential for said team to be part of building the commercial proposition to the customer – which sets the initial expectation. There are different techniques that can be employed to achieve this, and some do it in disguise. Think about what a team does when it does backlog grooming. Think about how Sprint Planning methodologies can be applied to estimating the number of Sprints and hence the cost of the team to forecast NVP and build a business case. The team will need to deliver it, so only the team can say what it will really take from a position of knowledge. And to create real commitment, real ownership, we as humans require getting close to the action. Knowing what is happening and how provides us with the reassurance that we are part of whatever change we are introducing in society - be it a new product, a new feature or a lasting technical improvement.
A team that is in control of it's own destiny is a happier team, An individual that has a say over every aspect of their work and can see a satisfied customer is a happier person. An organisation composed by people that work in this manner creates, what I call, a "Happiness Pipeline". Through setting clear expectations and producing clear outcomes we allow clients to achieve their aims. Through working in a way that we consider acceptable for the team as a whole, we create a happy team, composed by happy individuals that want to keep a good thing going. This is a Happiness Pipeline, which takes both as an input and output happiness. A force of change focused on improving society, delivering benefits to all stake holders that participate in the process.
I see the Agile Happiness Pipeline as a version of Ouroboros. It's a cycle that generates it's own internal forces that allow it to fight being broken by external ones. It's fair, honest, transparent and human. It's what was there in the beginning and will stay at the end and will participate in everything in between.
If you believe that based on everything I've explained in the post, I can only be talking about some utopian, head-in-the-clouds, organisational model - think again. This works. And it's just Symbox.