“Are we nearly there yet?” Agile assessments and levels of maturity

New Thinking 16 September 2013 Richard Scott-Will-Harknett

Anyone with children will probably recognise the call from the back of the car: “Are we nearly there yet?”. It’s as painful to hear as you’re driving along as it is understandable. A young child has no real concept of journey length or the markers along the way that set out where you are. As the driver, you just need to know that you are heading in the right direction and you won’t run out of fuel. Do you really need to know much else?

What does this tell us about organisations that want some sort of assessment or scale to be marked against in terms of their Agile adoption? When seen in this light, I think it can show a natural desire for clarity/certainty from management that has recently started on their Agile journey and doesn't really know what to expect. 

However, as a full-time Agile coach, my view is that it doesn't matter at all ‘how Agile’ you are as an organisation. In many respects, it is the wrong question to be asking. In response to such a question, my reply tends to be:

  • Are all of your customers delighted with your products/deliveries?
  • Are you content with your level of quality and time from concept inception to product/project delivery where you deliver/get value?
  • Do your teams have high morale; are your staff levels of engagement high and your staff churn low?
  • Is the level of innovation higher than it used to be and are new ideas for improvements often coming from all directions?
  • Are your management team and organisational processes aligned to do all they can to just support the teams in being productive and not add overheads?
  • Are you able to react quickly and easily to changing demands in the market, can you out-manoeuvre your competition?

If the answer to any of these questions is anything other than a resounding “Yes!”, then there may be something for us to talk about. Equally, if the answers really are all “Yes”, then that’s fantastic! Perhaps you should start to share what you are doing with other Kiwi businesses – I’d give up my time for free to come and study you. The key point is that any one organisation’s agility is context-dependent to their specific circumstances. The use of some scale will not help you very much at all. If I say you are a 6.8, what use is that?

Agile is much more about the way you think than it is about any specific process or framework or tool. It’s about the values you hold, the principles that support those values and the way you act as a result of those values and principles. 

So are we nearly there yet? I don't know. Take a look at the Agile Manifesto and tell me how much your people live and breathe those four value statements and the 12 principles that support them. What are your answers to the questions above? 

Now tell me, do we have something to talk about?