An Approach to Agility that Actually Works

Forget the new wave of agile xxx manifestos, competency frameworks, and fluency metrics. All of these new ‘tools’ are just someone trying to tell you they know best about your business and how you should behave.

Ironically, asking you to ignore this latest fad of agile snake oil is also a type of instruction, a guide, an opinion. And there lies the first problem. Telling someone how to work, doesn’t work.

Innovation, product development, and organisational change are all types of wicked problems. Getting advice, planning, yearly budgeting, delivering, and then testing, doesn’t work anymore. We live in a VUCA world.

Agile consultancies, coaches, and organisations have not yet adapted to the challenge and are still using an old mindset to try to deliver a new one. Many are trying. Huge amounts of effort are being put into transformation to meet business demand and most are failing.

The current and future challenges that we face require ownership at a local level whilst optimising at a global or macro level.

And there lies the second and third problems. Humans are not very good at taking ownership and have a natural cognitive bias towards local optimisation.

Every coaching company or agile consultancy I have seen offers solutions the wrong way around. They offer centralised solution and decision making (i.e. the few tell the many how to work (installing a framework), and then leave it to mid and junior level managers (or some other job title such as Release Train Engineer, Scum Master, Coach) to locally optimise their area whilst no-one who is actually doing the work takes any ownership of the customer solution or ways of working).

In short, the current offerings cause large amounts of upheaval and no lasting change.

As far as I know AWA and Cognitive Edge are the only two companies in the world who are providing solutions the right way around. I am sure there are many individuals who get this but there are also many who don’t. If you do something similar feel free to comment and let us know what you are up to! I hope this article helps. I won’t speak about Cognitive Edge as I have little visibility (although you can watch Dave Snowden to get an idea), but I can speak to AWA’s approach and results.

The first thing to understand about AWA is that we don’t tell our clients what to do. Instead, we provide a systemic mirror for the whole organisation that gives new information at a macro level and a narrative of what is going on at a local and individual level.

For the first time, organisations gain a shared vocabulary of what is going on and everyone can see trends that can be amplified or dampened.

This results in three major improvements:

  • small experiments in changing ways of working by the people who will be working in the area of change, not by a central group.
  • a shift in identity from small team to a larger product focus negating our local optimisation bias.
  • a huge upskilling in ‘People Tech’, the skills needed for better meaning-making, learning, and relationship development. People Tech is a set of techniques, protocols, and skills, that allow people to grow themselves, each other, and the relationships every business needs to thrive.

The difference from other approaches is that there are no agile coaches selling agile, there is very high if not total ownership of delivery, and the change is long lasting and happens at a sustainable pace.

The business result is faster delivery of smaller more valuable increments to happier customers and the ability to change priorities with no loss of work with a low-cost impact and a highly engaged workforce.

If you are interested in learning more, we can speak with you to see if our approach can help you and your organisation develop and grow. Email the AWA Team –

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