Roadmap to Organizational Success: Agile and Beyond
This post explores the software industry's diverse management philosophies. While we do not claim to have all the answers, our objective is to provide you with a broad understanding of these philosophies, helping you make informed decisions on how to steer your products, projects and teams best.
By delving into the various approaches, we intend to equip readers with valuable insights to consider when defining their organization's work methodologies and team structures. We offer an overview of the main philosophies prevalent in the software industry, highlighting their unique characteristics and suitable contexts. Nevertheless, seeking professional guidance and consultation for tailored advice is highly recommended. We welcome your comments and inquiries; feel free to contact us directly through our contact page for specific professional assistance.
The value of an Organizational Mindset
An organizational mindset is essential because it provides a strategic and cultural foundation to operate effectively, make informed decisions, foster continuous improvement, engage employees, and deliver customer value. It serves as a compass guiding the organization's actions, behaviors, and strategic direction.
In this post, we will introduce the main philosophies a software organization can adopt:
The Plan-Driven philosophy is regarded as the traditional mindset in the software industry. With a track record of effectiveness in fields like construction, it was also adopted as the go-to approach in software development.
The Agile philosophy is a newer paradigm in the software industry that is born on top of the traditional mindset to fit the software characteristics. As it says in the Agile Manifesto: "We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it."
The Lean philosophy that comes from the Toyota Production System, is characterized by a process structure that attempts to minimize risk and waste while maximizing customer value.
Those philosophies are not mutually exclusive, and hybrid approaches can be used in different environments or project scenarios. Organizations may adopt a combination of Lean, Agile, and Plan-Driven approaches based on on the characteristics of what is being worked on, customer needs, and organizational culture.
The word "project" is frequently used in this post, but it is crucial to clarify that Agile is designed for managing products, not projects. Although "product" and "project" have distinct characteristics, for the sake of convenience, I will continue using the term "project" throughout the post. Please bear this distinction in mind as you read.
The aims of the mindsets:
Plan-Driven, Lean, Agile
Let's imagine that your organization is beginning a new software solution. Which approach would you ask your team to adopt in building it?
- "Tell me the estimated project completion date and present a detailed plan to achieve it."
- "Let's begin working, try to build something, and recheck if we are in the correct way in a few weeks."
- "Let's discover what you need to start working asap and what's the optimal way of doing it. If any obstacles arise, let's rejoin to optimize our processes."
According to your answer, you may notice which way of thinking you are following.
The Plan-Driven philosophy prioritizes upfront planning, thorough requirements gathering, and strict adherence to predefined timelines, budgets, and resources.
Lean, derived from the Toyota Production System, focuses on minimizing risk and waste while maximizing customer value through process optimization.
Agile, in contrast to the traditional philosophy, values individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, and responding to change over following a plan. Although Agile draws inspiration from Lean, its objectives differ in in certain aspects.
Given the example provided above, where you ask your team different questions based on your organization's mindset, it becomes evident that each mindset requires a distinct approach to work. By embracing the appropriate philosophy, you can enhance collaboration, optimize processes, and achieve better project outcomes.
Directing focus according to Organizational MindsetNow that we have explored different mindsets, let's delve into where your organizational focus should lie based on the specific mindset you align with.
To illustrate this, consider the following scenario: How would you approach the situation if a project in your organization is not meeting a set deadline? Reflect on the following options:
- Gather the team to analyze the issues and identify areas for improvement collectively.
- Challenge the team to change their way of working.
- Request the team to put in extra work hours to meet the deadline.
Lean focuses on improving processes and reducing waste, optimizing efficiency and value.
Conversely, Agile emphasizes people, collaboration, and adaptability, recognizing that people and their interactions drive successful outcomes.
Additionally, both philosophies share a common emphasis on continuous improvement, adaptability, and collaboration.
On the other hand, the Plan-Driven philosophy focuses on upfront planning, predictability, and following predefined processes to achieve project goals. The focus is on setting clear objectives, defining requirements, and creating a well-defined project plan that outlines the project scope, timelines, and resource allocation.
Our focus on our decisions and ways of working is essential and must be aligned with the organizational mindset. Most companies' main problem is wanting "the best of the two worlds".
Organizational Environment-Mindset compatibility
When considering the adoption of a particular mindset, it's crucial to assess whether your organization's environment is conducive to its implementation and promotion. What's the assertion that best defines the teams' environment in your organization?
- The project scope (the requirements are the same from the beginning to the end), the team structure, and the budget never change. Also, it's important to document and formalize the plan; no value is expected until the project ends.
- The requirements are unclear initially, and the team structure and priorities could change in the middle. Also, the stakeholders are available to collaborate and the team must deliver value to them frequently to receive fast product feedback.
- The team knows where they are working on, and the activities to do it. Also, reducing the time to market and cost is essential to compete.
The Plan-Driven philosophy is typically employed in environments where predictability, stability, and strict adherence to predefined plans are critical. It is commonly used in industries with regulatory requirements, large-scale infrastructure projects, and projects with well-defined scopes, schedules, and budgets.
The Agile philosophy thrives in dynamic and complex environments that demand flexibility, rapid response to change, and close collaboration with customers and stakeholders. Agile is well-suited for products with evolving requirements, where frequent feedback, adaptability, and quick value delivery are crucial.
The Lean philosophy is well-suited for environments that require process optimization, waste reduction, and continuous improvement. It is particularly effective in manufacturing and production settings, focusing on streamlining operations, reducing waste, and enhancing efficiency.
Have you ever questioned:
- Why can't the team provide you with a clear timeline for project completion?
- Why is your Agile team struggling to deliver what you expect?
- Why are there idle team members waiting for work?
If these questions resonate with your experience, the existing conditions within your teams are likely not conducive to the mindset you aspire to follow. Recognizing the critical role of the environment empowers organizations to cultivate an atmosphere that fosters success, enabling teams to thrive and accomplish their goals more effectively.
Finding your best match: exploring Organizational Structures
The organizational structure is essential to support the adoption of any mindset. Consider the following scenarios:
- What happens if someone within your organization has a disruptive and innovative idea?
- Does everyone in your organization know who you should ask to propose a change?
- Can your organization completely change how the teams work without thousands of protocols?
Agile methodologies are often well-suited for organizations with a flat or decentralized organizational structure. This structure allows for self-organizing and cross-functional teams, empowering them to make autonomous decisions and collaborate closely. Agile teams thrive in an environment that fosters open communication, transparency, and rapid decision-making.
Lean principles align well with process-oriented and cross-functional structures. A process-oriented structure organizes teams around specific processes or value streams, enabling a focus on optimizing end-to-end processes and reducing waste. Cross-functional teams, on the other hand, bring together individuals with diverse skills and expertise to promote collaboration and holistic problem-solving.
The Plan-Driven philosophy often aligns well with a hierarchical organizational structure. This structure enables a top-down approach to project management, with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. It facilitates centralized decision-making and coordination, ensuring adherence to predefined plans, timelines, and budgets.
Take a moment to reflect on your organizational structure. Does it enable or impede the implementation of any of these mindsets?
Assessing Organizational Culture for Mindset assimilation
Imagine a new technology is on the horizon, and you want to introduce it to your business. How do you think your teams will respond when you ask them how they would approach its adoption?
- Conduct a thorough analysis of the new technology and develop a comprehensive implementation plan, considering cost, feasibility, and compatibility.
- Gather the team and stakeholders to explore the new technology, conduct small-scale experiments, and iterate after receiving feedback.
- Analyze current processes, identify areas for improvement, and pilot the new technology in specific areas, gradually scaling based on validated learnings.
In Lean cultures, individuals exhibit a process-oriented mindset, striving for efficiency and waste reduction. They prioritize understanding customer needs and delivering value while continuously improving processes. Respect for others and fostering a positive work environment are valued.
In Agile environments, individuals are valued for their collaboration skills, empowering them to work effectively in teams and communicate openly. They embrace adaptability, being open to change and responsive to evolving requirements. Continuous learning is essential, with individuals actively seeking opportunities for growth and experimentation.
In Plan-Driven settings, individuals demonstrate attention to detail, reliability, and adherence to established plans and procedures. Compliance with regulations and effective risk management are emphasized.
The success of adopting a mindset, its practical implementation, and long-term sustainability are all influenced by the organization's culture, which its people ultimately shape. Are they prepared to embrace the principles and values associated with the desired mindset? It's important to remember that frequent coaching and support for your team are necessary to prepare individuals for the shift of mindset required.
In conclusion, embracing a project management philosophy that aligns with your organization's goals and values can lead you to success. You can steer your products, projects and teams toward achieving optimal outcomes by making informed decisions, fostering collaboration, and continuously improving your processes.
The Plan-Driven philosophy offers structure and predictability, Agile promotes adaptability and collaboration, and Lean focuses on efficiency and waste reduction. While each philosophy has its strengths, they are not mutually exclusive, and organizations can adopt a hybrid approach based on the characteristics of what is being worked on, customer needs, and their own culture.
Ultimately, choosing the right mindset for your organization depends on factors such as requirements, team dynamics, and the desired level of flexibility. It's essential to align your organizational structure, focus areas, and readiness for change with the chosen philosophy.
Thank you for joining us on this journey to explore the world of management philosophies. We hope this post has provided valuable insights and sparked ideas for your organization's success. Feel free to leave any comments and we encourage you to contact our experts for personalized advice tailored to your specific needs.
Thanks to the invaluable contribution of Gabriel Ledesma, a Certified Team Coach who is an integral part of our team, we were able to delve into the depths of management philosophies and gain valuable insights.