Sometimes it’s useful to look up a word in the dictionary. Especially when that word gets used a lot in business. ‘Agile’ is just such a word. It started out as a way of developing software in an iterative and more fluid way than the old ‘Waterfall’ approach which had rigid steps, was resistant to incremental change, slow, costly, and couldn’t keep up with the rapidly changing needs of the customer.
But what does the word actually mean? The Merriam Webster dictionary makes it sound quite poetic: ‘an ability to move with quick and easy grace; having a quick resourceful and adaptable character – an agile mind.’ It turns out the origin of the word is the Latin for the verb to drive or to act.
I believe we should think about Agile (capital ‘A’) in the very human terms of that dictionary definition. After all, every business is focused on serving customers, and so the needs of the customer have to come first. Agile helps you drive customer obsession and free your people (individuals and teams) from the restrictions of a rigid organizational structure so they can act decisively.
Agile is about seeing your business not as an organization but as a living, breathing group of people all focused on creating products that deliver tangible customer outcomes. A business is not just about functions it’s about relationships – between people. And only people who are able to interact freely can have innovative ideas based on a close and dynamic view of the marketplace – i.e. what real customers are doing and saying.
At Fujitsu, we have long believed in what we call ‘human-centric’ co-creation. It’s the basis of Agile. And how ever you organize your Agile approach, whether it’s based on Kanban or sprints or scrums or acronyms like DAD, RUP and DSDM (there are more!), what you need to focus on is the benefits of the approach: greater flexibility, the ability to review and change at any time, more fluid stakeholder feedback and, most importantly, the early and continuous delivery of value.
Value – that’s another overused word. It’s not just about money (though that’s important) it’s about giving customers what they need to achieve their specific objectives – quickly. Waterfall puts value at the end of the process. Agile brings it forward. You can deliver projects earlier, learn from mistakes or problems, adapt quickly, and then improve iteratively. There’s value in all those steps. And customers get value earlier. They don’t have to wait. And no one wants to wait for value in a digital landscape where disruptive change is the New Normal.
So, understanding the human definition of Agile frees you from the constraints of methodologies. It’s easy to get sucked in by tick boxes and flow charts. Agile is about actively doing things and learning / changing / adapting as you go along. That’s more exciting. It’s more creative and enjoyable. And that shows in the final product. It also allows you to focus on higher value business items. The team feels a sense of ownership because they have an end-to-end view and stake in the development ’game’. They’re not just cogs in the machine – boxes on the organizational diagram – they’re key to delivering something real.
So, what about DevOps, that’s usually closely linked to Agile. Well, you can’t really do DevOps without Agile, and you can’t really be Agile without at least adopting DevOps principles to a certain extent. As I said, everyone has to work together. There can be no siloes. No borders. No bottlenecks. Embrace the flow and the unpredictability that goes with it and adjust your management style accordingly. Us humans are never predictable, we love to improvise and learn from our mistakes. It’s what makes us human.
At Fujitsu, we believe we deliver the real meaning of Agile.