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Are We Operating in a Post-Agile World?

Updated: Oct 18, 2023


Prelude: The Spark for This Article

A recent post by Andrew Long on LinkedIn highlighted ongoing shifts in the Agile community. Long talks about fewer roles for traditional Agile coaches and Scrum Masters as organisations become more Agile-savvy. Long offered three alternative career paths for Agile professionals facing these changes:


  • Specialising in Lean, Agile, and DevOps training and development.

  • Moving up to managerial roles where coaching skills augment broader leadership talents.

  • Becoming a "player-coach" who spreads Agile by actively participating in teams.


Nigel Thurlow commented on the post, saying, "The fact this post and these conversations are happening demonstrates that 'post Agile' is a thing, and indeed Agile has been oversold and underdone”. He further warned that organisations have largely failed to implement true Agile methods, often settling for what he terms "disciplined waterfall." Thurlow’s advice? Update CVs/resumes to include broad skills, knowledge, and abilities, not just roles tied to Agile titles.


In a similar vein, Evan Leybourn of the Business Agility Institute shared at the Global Scrum Gathering last week that while the global demand for Agile coaches and transformation leads has declined, the need for proficiency in Agile ways of working has surged.


These insights kick off the deeper discussion that follows.


Introduction

The Agile Manifesto was a turning point that deeply impacted how we manage projects, develop software, and drive organisational change. However, with Evan Leybourn's observation underlining the decline in demand for traditional Agile roles but a surge in Agile proficiency, one might ask: Are we now in a 'Post-Agile' world? If so, what does it mean for professionals deeply invested in Agile ways of working?


The Agile Philosophy: What Does 'Mature' Mean?

Generally, when an organisation truly understands Agile, there's less need for specialised Agile coaches. Coaching becomes integrated into general management and leadership roles in such a mature Agile setting. Leaders and team members act as 'player coaches,' blending their job responsibilities with Agile principles. This concept of 'player coaches' extends a point I've often made: adaptable leaders are essential for a dynamic business environment.


Shifting Roles: A Fresh Take

With Agile becoming second nature, companies like Capital One have recently scaled back on role-specific Agile coaches and Scrum Masters. They believe Agile ways will be maintained by developers and managers alike. This shift in approach aligns closely with Evan Leybourn's remarks about the surging demand for Agile proficiency rather than traditional roles. This trend means Agile coaching skills are becoming part of broader roles, something I've often argued for. In short, Agile know-how should be a regular feature in any leader's or manager's skill set, not something separate.


The Myth of True Agile

As Nigel Thurlow critically points out, many organisations claim to have implemented Agile methods but fall short. This failure often occurs because those in charge are reluctant to change. Such reluctance underscores the need to tackle activities and behaviours that don't add value, especially at the executive level, to achieve genuine transformation.


The 'Post-Agile' Condition: Fact or Fiction?

Post-agile discussions often hinge on the gap between what's said and what's done. Nigel Thurlow's observation that Agile has been "oversold and underdone" adds weight to this view. Some organisations claim to be Agile without truly embracing its core principles. For example, critics say SAFe is just 'bureaucratic agile’, missing the essence of true Agile. These shortcuts detract from Agile's true essence, which is not just a way to work but a culture, attitude, and ethos that supports adaptability, team cooperation, and customer focus.


Beyond 'Post-Agile': Addressing Structural Barriers

As Nigel Thurlow and Andrew Long agree, the next frontier in 'Post-Agile' transformation must focus on leadership and structural issues that inhibit organisational agility. These can range from executive compensation to regulatory hurdles. Unless we tackle these issues, even progress in Agile could be undone.


Agile-to-'Post-Agile': Charting the Next Frontier

We must look beyond career paths and focus on the broader shifts in Agile thinking. The 'Post-Agile' landscape isn't merely about adapting to new roles; it's about understanding that Agile has permeated businesses' core. The future is not about clinging to Agile labels or specific approaches but about embedding agility as a cultural norm across all organisational levels.


To navigate this 'Post-Agile' era, we must look beyond framework-specific roles and embrace a strategic viewpoint. As we've established, it's less about being an Agile Coach or a Scrum Master and more about being a transformational leader who embodies agility. The future belongs to those who can adapt, innovate, and execute Agile principles, irrespective of their job title.


Unpacking 'Post-Agile': Why Being Adaptable Matters

It's crucial to note that 'Post-Agile' doesn't mean Agile is history. Far from it. Rather, it's a sign that Agile thinking has become so ingrained in a company that it's just part of how things are done. The ingraining of Agile thinking aligns with my regular point that digital transformation is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.


Expert Reflections: Adding Dimension to the 'Post-Agile' Conversation

Nigel Thurlow's comment about "Bullshit Jobs and Fake Agile" raises an interesting point: Agility is not a role but an emergent quality of how we act and behave toward our work and each other. Such an observation underscores my previous post on needing an organisational culture that adapts rather than merely adjusting individual roles.


Andrew Long also acknowledges the progress organisations have made in their Agile journeys. However, he points out the lack of structural and behavioural change at senior management levels. His observation resonates with my perspective that addressing leadership and structural issues is critical for positively impacting organisational behaviour.


Considering the remarks from Long and Thurlow, it becomes evident that 'Post-Agile' is not a phase but a call to action. Leaders must address deeper organisational challenges that require strategic orientation. Such a call to action reflects the same ethos I frequently emphasise: digital transformation and agility are ongoing processes demanding sustained focus rather than being treated as one-off initiatives.


Essentially, the dialogue surrounding 'Post-Agile' emphasises the need for strategic transformation. This dialogue reinforces my long-held view that agility should be deeply embedded in an organisation's fabric.


Conclusion

Here we are, at a crossroads where Agile's very success could make some traditional roles redundant. But that's not cause for alarm - it's a chance for us to reassess and realign our strategies. As leaders in this domain, our aim should be to adapt and thrive, regardless of what we call the methodologies we embrace. After all, if Agile teaches us anything, it's that adaptability and responsiveness to change are key to survival and success.


It's a fascinating time for those of us deeply involved in Agile and transformational leadership. Our roles and expectations may shift, but our foundational goals remain to drive value, empower teams, and deliver excellence. Moving from Agile to 'Post-Agile' is not a break but an evolution. As we often say in the Agile community, it's not about the destination but the journey, and the strategies we adopt for this journey will define our future success.

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