Where Agile is Fragile
“The minute we use something in the way that everyone else is doing it, the indifference principle kicks in and all economic gains are competed away.” – Toby Hecht
I’m reminded of this quote every time I hear one of my clients talk about using something like Service Oriented Architecture or Agile and expect to create some competitive advantage.
The quote explains the Indifference Principle in action. The Indifference Principle is the corollary to the third Principle of Economics as written by Gregory Mankiw which states that “Rational People Think On the Margin.” It’s not so difficult to understand when you think about “What is your differentiator?” After all, it’s what makes you different that will trigger assessments of value (or not) with your potential customers.
If you try to use Agile or anything else for that matter, in a way that everyone else is using it, you can’t gain any competitive advantage.
How can I use Agile to ensure I WILL thwart my intentions or business missions?
I’ve included some examples:
When you try to manage resources instead of gaining commitments. Managers must stop managing their people and their projects. Instead they must begin managing the commitments employees make, hold them accountable and reward them when they fulfill them.
When you make excuses for not fulfilling your commitments. Excuses merely hide the underlying reasons why you aren’t successful. If you want to be a high performing team producing competitive advantage, you must be intellectually honest with yourself. Having integrity, whether you are trying to produce a business outcome or scoring a game of golf really does matter when you’re ultimate goal it to accumulate more power.
Continuing to do things the way you’ve always done them. We tell our customers that outcomes are what really matter. If you aren’t getting the results, look at the breakdowns you are producing along the way and adjust. How much time are you spending in reflection about what’s wrong with the way you produce an outcome?
What can I do to avoid this?
When I begin a new project to produce something new, I remember my ultimate purpose and I know the ultimate cost to me if I don’t achieve it. This keeps me grounded.
You must be in action to stay grounded because without grounding you will lose your direction. Without direction your project will drift and you will lose sight of your objectives.
Here is what I recommend:
Look at the results. What metrics are are you capturing that bring meaning to your project? For instance, if you are implementing a new technology, first what is the purpose for the new technology? What is the return you expect on your investment? How do you know you are being successful? Are you capturing all the data you need? How well has your employees adapted and adopted to this new technology?
Get the commitments from your team, don’t give them their commitments. Get commitment and hold people accountable for what they said they would deliver. If they fail, look at the commitment they made and assess if they are competent to make the commitment in the first place. Do they hold the sub-commitments necessary to make the ultimate commitment to you.
Every organization is really an organization of commitments. Without commitment there is no action. If your organization can’t hold commitments, it may be time to re-evaluate the people making the commitments or the commitments themselves. Are they realistic?
Allow your people to be honest in their own assessment of each other’s work. This can be scary in a corporate environment but this is the engine for creating a high performing team. When a team can hold the standard for what defines success, then you have the beginning of a high performing and competitive organization.
For further reading, check out
Gregory Mankiw’s Principle of Economics. You can download the first chapter for free from Amazon’s Kindle Store. All ten of them are described and listed in that first chapter.
Understanding Computers and Cognition by Fernando Flores. This is the penultimate example of what makes a conversation for action and serves as the foundation for Why Status Quo’s process for Agility.
I welcome comments and any new thinking in the section below.