Substance over speed: Time to rethink your agile approach?

Focus on outcomes, not process

Companies don’t last forever. In fact, data shows that the average lifespan of an S&P 500 company will shrink from 33 years to 12 years by 2027. As someone who’s thrown themselves into agile practices, this doesn’t surprise me – not even in the slightest.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on the alignment between predictive behaviors as companies venture through the massive cultural change required to survive this shortened lifespan. Like others, I want to know how agile practices can help companies survive a market churn rate of roughly 50%.

One conclusion I’ve come to is that we’ve been so absorbed in our daily routines that we’ve forgotten why we do the things we do. What was it we set out to accomplish in the first place? What were the original goals we had in mind? And are the daily activities we participate in (which sometimes feel like a grind) tangibly moving us towards those goals?

This is a good time to step back and evaluate our businesses in the same way. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Is the work we’re doing on a daily basis actively moving us towards the end goal? Are we achieving what we’d originally envisioned?

Are you achieving your business goals?

Most business leaders will say they began their agile journey as a method of achieving top- and bottom-line business goals. But many I speak with aren’t exactly overwhelmed by the success of their agile transitions.

They meticulously follow agile processes and methodologies and they’re pushing out new features at breakneck speed. But that’s not translating into the business impact they’d anticipated. Think of a gerbil on a treadmill, running with all its might and getting healthier in the process, but not making any forward progress.

The problem is twofold. First, many have become so caught up in agile processes and procedures, they can’t see the forest for the trees. It’s like governments that get so caught up in bureaucracy that they lose sight of the original goal of serving the people.

Agile processes are important—Big Room Planning, ceremonies and retrospectives are essential—but they aren’t the main event. Delivering customer value is. Because delivering customer value is what ultimately moves the needle.

Second, organizations place too much focus on speed of delivery. While speed is important, it’s not as important as substance. There’s no point in doing something fast if the end result isn’t impactful.

 What are you doing and why?

Occasionally, leaders must remind their agile organizations of the reason they set out on their agile journey in the first place. For most, it wasn’t to become a feature factory. It wasn’t to churn out new bells and whistles at breakneck speed. The goal was to build better, more useful products for your customers.

If that’s true for your organization, then it might be time to think about measuring success differently. Rather than how many features you churned out last quarter, why not measure the response to the features you produced and the resulting impact on your business? That should be a much better way of measuring the real success of your efforts.

Is the work you’re doing on a daily basis moving you towards the end goal?

I’ve read that a common habit of successful individuals is to look at their daily activities and expunge the things they spend time on that don’t move them towards their end goal. You know the drill. If you’re spending two hours a day watching Maury and your goal isn’t to be an expert in bad behavior, cut it from your regimen.

Two things are required here: One, you have to be able to see how each activity plays into your end goals and two, you have to remove the “noise.” Same is true for organizations.

Your people have to be able to see how their daily activities play into the overall goals of the organization. This is crucial. Take baseball as an analogy. If you didn’t understand how swinging the bat, hitting the ball and running around the bases would get you to the end goal—scoring points and winning the game—you’d be swinging wildly and running aimlessly. And you probably wouldn’t take it too seriously.

Again, the same is true for your people. They must be able to see how every activity they participate in impacts the ultimate objectives of the organization.

The added bonus is, when they can see how their work directly impacts company objectives, they also begin to understand how small tweaks in their approach could be beneficial in moving that needle. Transparency can be a springboard for good ideas and innovation.

Therefore, it’s essential that the goals of the organization are weaved into the fabric of every project. This is an area where agile vendors could improve their offerings by illustrating how daily activities tie into company objectives.

Ready to learn more? Join us for a webinar on becoming a purpose-driven organization, and see how creating an outcome-oriented culture can help create an environment centered around delivering value instead of just velocity.

Shannon Mason
Shannon Mason is the Vice President of Product Management for CA Agile Central, formerly Rally…


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