Featured Product
This Week in Quality Digest Live
Innovation Features
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Hafnium oxide key to novel applications
David Suttle
What is breakthrough technology really capable of?
David Cantor
This article is 97.88% made by human/2.12% by AI
Eric Whitley
Robotic efficiency coupled with human intuition yields a fast, accurate, adaptable manufacturing system

More Features

Innovation News
To be unveiled during PACK EXPO Las Vegas at the Hiperbaric booth, No. N-10857
Educating the next generation of machinists with state-of-the-industry equipment
In a first, researchers have observed how lithium ions flow through a battery interface
Air-extend/spring-retract moves probe out of the way
Precision cutting tools maker gains visibility and process management across product life cycles
Expanded offering includes Smartscope E-series for 3-axis video measurement
Accelerates CAM programming time 80% to make U.S. manufacturers more productive
Pioneers new shape-memory alloys
A Heart for Science initiative brings STEM to young people

More News

Tina Behers


Improve Agile Methods by Encouraging Experimentation

First, leaders must overcome their fear of failure

Published: Thursday, May 25, 2023 - 12:03

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s how quickly—and drastically—things can change in business. Indeed, organizations have been in an almost constant state of change through the ebbs and flows of the pandemic and its new work models, the fluctuating economy, and labor challenges pushing them to become more nimble.

Today, a company’s ability to execute and adapt to the landscape around it is arguably its core competitive advantage. In fact, research by global law firm Howard Kennedy found that 82 percent of businesses now consider agility important to their future, up from 66 percent before the pandemic. That’s also why we’re seeing more businesses recognize the need to be more responsive and agile.

In 2001, the Agile methodology for software development was introduced by my colleague Jon Kern and his co-authors in the “Agile Manifesto for Agile Software Development.” The goal was to unlock the rigid “waterfall” software development then being used. The Agile process has since grown beyond software development and is now being applied across business departments and in portfolio management. To achieve enterprise or business agility across all aspects of the business, companies are emphasizing collaboration, self-organization, and the ability to manage constant change rather than being locked into rigid constraints.

But what is an agile enterprise business? Essentially, Agile methodology compels organizations to favor individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working products over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a project plan. An agile enterprise thus becomes a company that can adapt to and overcome changing market conditions quickly. They can do this because they have changed the culture and mindset to operate in new, more adaptive ways. And we’re not just talking about software or product development—the journey to becoming an agile enterprise is a lot more holistic than that.

To thrive, agile requires a cultural transformation, not from the typical “top-down” or “bottom-up” but also horizontally, across the entire business, including its people, processes, and technology.

As agile ways of working move beyond the realm of software teams, they can drastically improve not only a company’s resilience but also its productivity. In fact, Microsoft’s “Future of Business Resilience” report found that agile businesses are not only close to 50-percent faster to market, they also see 20-percent to 30-percent higher productivity, and financial lifts of 20 to 30 percent.

For most businesses, this agility at scale is a considerable shift away from traditional work models. However, organizations ready to embrace change must understand it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s OK to experiment as we learn what works best for our culture, our employees, and our customers. And the learning is, in itself, a huge part of success.

In praise of failure

There’s still an outdated belief in the business world that employees should be punished when they make mistakes. It’s a leadership style born during the reign of the empirically structured office, when workers were expected to deliver error-free work every day and prove their value by the number of hours they worked.

This philosophy was designed to “motivate” workers. But the reality is that it often achieves the exact opposite, sapping workers’ confidence and creating a fearful, inflexible work environment in which they can no longer thrive.

So why does it still exist? Because outdated notions of productivity still permeate organizations. At the Adaptavist Group, we conducted a work study that found close to 60 percent of employees believe the definition of productivity needs to focus on the quality of work vs. the number of hours logged—a clear indicator that the workplace and management must continue to evolve. Yet many executives still dig in their heels—likely out of fear of failure.

This is a real paradox because most successful business leaders embrace mistakes as crucial learning opportunities. As Bill Gates says, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” When embracing new ways of working, these words carry a critical lesson: To help an organization grow, people need time to learn and experiment, and to be able to do so without the risk of repercussions.

Experimenting with new ways of working

In other words, you need to be agile to succeed. One way to do this is by piloting this cultural shift before implementing it across your entire organization.

For example, there’s one company I worked with that embraced this concept by first asking everyone in their business, “Who wants to be part of a pilot?” Then, they conducted interviews and assessments to pick their pilot team or, as they became known, their agile ambassadors.

They gradually extended the program to other teams and projects, and as they did, they continued to learn and share knowledge and best practices. The pilot became like a community where employees could share their problems and collaborate on solutions before communicating their learning to the rest of their company as “one voice.”

This type of agile culture experiment allows you to learn more about the dynamics of the people within your organization and any cultural issues or mindset challenges that might otherwise be barriers to a successful implementation. Moreover, it’s a great way to gradually bring people along by sharing your successes across your company and getting people on board with the shift.

Accepting steps forward and backward as progress

Of course, this strategy will only work when organizations’ leaders overcome their own fear of failure. Although becoming an agile enterprise requires buy-in from every department and team member, your plans won’t see the light of day if there’s resistance to change at the top. In fact, from what I’ve seen, when a business’s agile efforts fail, it’s usually because of fear of change and a lack of understanding.

Executives must be OK with treating their transition to agile as an educational journey, even though this undeniably complex and fast-changing landscape might tell them to do the opposite. Moreover, they must be willing to embrace greater autonomy within their organizations, even if it means relinquishing control and welcoming mistakes as learning opportunities.

After all, the result is an organization capable of making critical decisions more swiftly and confidently. This agility is becoming the most significant differentiator among businesses in today’s ever-changing environment.


About The Author

Tina Behers’s picture

Tina Behers

Tina Behers is vice president of Enterprise Agility, Aligned Agility (part of The Adaptavist Group). She has more than 25 years of experience in transformation and organizational development, business process management, program and project management, and corporate strategy. She leads Aligned Agility within the Adaptavist Group and provides expertise that allows enterprises to realize the full value of agile at scale, quickly. She is a leading Jira Align authority with seven years of AgileCraft/Jira Align experience across five continents.



What a farce!  Agile is a fad that evolved from the RAD and RIP software fads of the 80's.  It has absolutely nothing to do with quality.  It is simply another way for consultants to milk gullible clients.

Now that the Six Sigma Scam and Lean fads are failing, managers are looking for new magic bullets.  Six Sigma has a 91% fail rate (Qualpro) and Lean has a 98% fail rate (IW). 

There is only one approach to Quality and waste reduction ... that of Dr Shewhart, Professor Ishikawa, Professor Lewis, Professor Deming, Dr Taguchi and Dr Wheeler.

Agile concepts can be applied to Lean Six Sigma as well

Over the last several years, many organizations have questioned the need for 10-20 day belt trainings. Instead, companies including Christus Health, Novartis, UL and Crayola have given presentations at quality conferences about how they've downsized their training to 1-2 days and are getting results by doing one day of training and one day of application.

I call this Agile Process Innovation. I've written a free ebook about how to do this. Download it at: https://www.qimacros.com/pdf/Agile-Process-Innovation.pdf