I like checking out bookstores in airports when I’m waiting to board. So, when I came across the Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine featuring a picture of a slinky and a big bold title that read ‘Agile At Scale: How To Create a Truly Flexible Organization’, I had to buy it. It’s a great read and further validates why we curated the unique learning course ‘Hacking for agile change’, developed by Lena Ross of changehacks based on her book with the same name, as one of our intent-driven learning course offerings by HIQ Learning Services. De-mystifying the word ‘agile’ is still needed in a complex world.

With fast-moving, globalised competitors and start-ups threatening the big players, creating agile innovation teams and scaling is essential to survive and maintain market leadership. One shudders at the thought of big brands like Kodak or Nokia which dominated our lives once upon a time. Now these brands are talked about as case studies for not innovating which caused their demise. No organisation is immune to change.

The HBR article talked about using agile values to innovate quickly. I found that interesting as we often hear the term ‘Agile’ (with the big ‘A’) as a ‘practice’ or ‘methodology’ for project delivery and software development, while ‘agile’ (the little ‘a’) is about a ‘mindset change’ to apply creativity to improve products, services, processes or business models and staying focused on the business and customer outcomes.

HBR researched hundreds of companies of different sizes on how they have scaled agile innovation teams. HBR found these agile teams share similar attributes:

  • They stay close to the customers, internal and external, are focused on a specific outcome, autonomous, creative, self-governing and possess cross-capability.
  • They are empowered by leaders who practice hands-off leadership, but know when to step in to remove barriers and spot constraints to help agile teams to innovate.
  • Their leaders embrace agile values and ensure that the non-agile teams within the business also provide a supportive stance to create a ‘frictionless’ experience for agile teams.

The article compared the approaches on scaling agile; Big-bang vs Sequenced. Big-bang transitions refer to significant overnight changes by radically removing traditional hierarchies and replacing these with hundreds of agile teams. Imagine the profound change of mindsets require to execute big-bang transitions. It would have required a significant number of agile practitioners to coach people through the change. Sequenced approach is much gentler in introducing agile teams, a handful at a time, matched to an implementation need to build agile capability over time. Changing mindset takes time and requires ongoing coaching, a lot of empathy and reflection to seal it.

I liked the final story in the HBR article which talked about using the agile approach for space colonisation. SpaceX is an ambitious project which uses the agile mindset to begin transporting people to Mars by 2024 to establish a self-sustaining colony, a literal sci-fi dream come true. SpaceX does not have all the answers yet, but they do have the resources and access to push technology as far as possible until new technologies and partners are created in future. Achieving this requires high agility and adaptability made possible by the agile mindset.

Back on earth, there is still so much to grasp and learn about agile. To successfully implement agile as a new way of working requires commitment, understanding and adoption. All this starts with the mindset change. In Lena Ross’s book, she defined “agility in mindset is about being versatile, adaptive and nimble in decision making. It demonstrates a tolerance for ambiguity, with a resilience to change goal posts and uncertainty. It’s a curious mind hungry for new information, with the qualities of what is defined as a ‘learning mindset’.”

When the little ‘a’ in agile is implemented well, organisations can profoundly succeed, stay ahead of the competitive curve rather than playing catch-up and merely surviving.

At IQ Group Australia, we had a launch session of the ‘Hacking for agile change’ course and came away with an array of agile change hacks that we can immediately use to start changing our mindsets.

To learn more about mindset, behaviours and practices, the little ‘a’ in agile, enrol in our upcoming public course, a choice of half-day or full day workshops on ‘Hacking for agile change’.

To enquire about how you can bring ‘Hacking for agile change’ course to your organisation, please contact hiqls@iqgroup.com.au.


Written by Cynthia Cheong, Practice Leader for Learning, PM and Change, HIQ Learning Services