Doing Agile Right

By Darrell Rigby, Sarah Elk, & Steve Berez

Many businesses have rushed to embrace agile, the innovation management tool that has helped propel such companies as Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify to outsized performance. Even more should turn to it now, as a critical way to respond to and bounce back from market crises including COVID-19. Implemented properly, agile is powerful. Implemented improperly—as it all too often is—agile can lead to disappointing or even disastrous results. How can companies best deploy it without falling prey to toxic mistakes?

To help answer this question, authors Darrell Rigby, Steve Berez, and Sarah Elk, of Bain & Company, used anecdotal evidence from hundreds of their own clients, diagnostic surveys completed by thousands of agile practitioners, and the collective experience of the more than 40 senior executives who participate in Bain’s Agile Enterprise Exchange. The result, DOING AGILE RIGHT: Transformation Without Chaos (May 26, 2020), is an empirically grounded, practical guide to setting up agile teams, scaling up agile, and the ultimate goal—creating an agile enterprise.

The authors take a balanced approach to the challenge of implementing agile. For instance, even though agile is an antidote to despotic bureaucracy, it’s not a replacement for appropriate bureaucratic rules and hierarchies. Agile and bureaucracy, the authors explain, are like oil and vinegar: they are good together, but they don’t mix easily. DOING AGILE RIGHT shows how to harmonize them.

Featuring in-depth case studies from companies ranging from Bosch and Dell to the Royal Bank of Scotland and Amazon, the many nuggets of wisdom in this guidebook include:

· Agile teams use sprints not to make people work harder or faster, but to get faster feedback from customers.

· The agile mindset abhors work in process since it ties up work while adding no value.

· Big-bang agile restructurings tend to flounder.

· You need more than structural change to break down silos and hierarchies.

· Companies should use agile methods to determine how agile to be.

· For agile practitioners, plans are testable hypotheses, to be adapted over time.

· Front-line employees—not senior managers—have the best understanding of customer needs and should be empowered to drive innovation.

· While agile practices can start in any level of an organization, senior leadership must ultimately be committed to create an agile enterprise.

Agile practitioners at any stage of their journey will benefit from the insights in this empowering book. They will learn how to improve their own performance and to help other employees improve theirs. Most important, they will come to understand that, if they do agile right, it will be valuable, inspiring, and revolutionary for businesses that urgently need to reinvent themselves. As Rigby puts it, “Agile is a cure for the crisis” that companies are facing now and others they’ll face in the future.
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