Much has been written about “Agile” and its adoption as a new management system. Like so many other trends, this method was born in Silicon Valley as “Agile development”, a method for adapting more quickly to changing conditions and making adjustments on the fly.

Agile has been identified as something of a magic bullet- enabling faster product development, improved quality and faster speed to market, all at lower development costs. But as they say, the devil is in the details.

Agile fits our changing market dynamics, including the move to flatter organizations, Millennial employees’ need for consistent feedback, and the rate of change. It presents a stark contrast to traditional command-and-control structures. Therein lies the struggle; it’s an alien concept to those accustomed to more traditional management approaches.

I have had two seemingly identical projects in the last year. In both cases, more established technology companies tried to implement Agile. Predictably, Agile threatened intuitional processes and caused severe cultural aftershocks. It wasn’t pretty.

Agile promotes daily “scrums”- cross-functional teams and other collaboration techniques that bring people together in real time to evaluate workload and priorities. We should, as a management culture, embrace these principles. However, the flaw in such adaptive practices is that it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. For example, some “products” in a technology environment may be on a timetable for a reason, such as being made available for a trade show or to meet a customer deadline.

The downside of Agile is that it’s perceived to invite a lower level of accountability. Our natural orientation is toward hitting milestones, targets and deliverables. People who miss them are seen as flighty. It is within our DNA as managers to want to see the line of sight to projects, and we get uncomfortable when we lose sight of their progression.

So perhaps Agile needs to be accepted as more of a movement. Companies such as Salesforce, who adopted Agile at formation, have created cultures that have thrived as a result. Others who institute it midstream may need to take a more measured approach.

So if you choose to progress toward Agile concepts, be conscious of the affect it will have on your culture. Product development can’t work in a vacuum; it has to meet the broader objectives of the organization. Agile may promote a far better culture within your organization, but you might need to drag along some managers kicking and screaming.

We should always be wary of magic bullets.


[i] Master the Process That’s Transforming Management by Rigby, Sutherland and Takeuchi –The Harvard Business Review, May 2016