Looking back to move forward. 10+ years of agile in Australia

Maria Muir
by Maria Muir , 14/12/22
Reflection in Far North Queensland (FNQ)

Prompted by fellow agility practitioners a few weeks ago at the Lean Agile Systems Thinking (LAST) conference in Melbourne, I have reflected on my journey with agile, and more broadly the state of agile in Australia, 10+ years on.

Together, we have achieved:

Past 10 years - what we have achieved

1. The first thing that comes to mind, is that I haven’t used the word ‘agile’ in probably 5 years. The reason why is because the word ‘agile’ comes with mixed understanding of what it is/isn’t and methodology debates. I would rather focus on answering: What are we optimising for?

2. Next, I’m proud to say that we have converted theory and a set of practices/frameworks into real stories that have led to lessons learned and outcomes. The social proof created in various contexts – delivery, product, sales, marketing, operations, HR, finance, etc. – has been remarkable. I recall my first ‘business agility’ engagement with one of the big4 banks back in 2016. We leveraged agility and experimentation to test the assumptions and design principles of a BU’s 3-year strategy. This outcome was to prove/disprove the hypotheses and assumptions in the strategy, and to embed a new capability. Looking back, this was quite progressive for its time as many organisations today haven’t yet adopted an outcome hypothesis-led approach to strategy.

3. As a result of this success, we have created a new capability and industry onto itself! Agile coaches have been a hot commodity in the market since 2017. I have benefited from this too – I made Partner at Deloitte as I created and led the Enterprise Agility Practice to enable this market need. Reflecting back, I have been riding the WoW Diffusion of Innovation curve working with early adopters with the telcos/banks and then the majority across oil & gas, mining, energy, retail sectors.

4. Our most significant accomplishment has been the evolution of agile from an IT-only context to one that encompasses the delivery of business-technology, and ultimately, the whole of enterprise. I have had first-hand experience in a number of these journeys over the years. These have been career highlight projects - Bankwest, Auckland Savings Bank, and ANZ – for their scale, scope of impact, and breadth of learning. 

In the next 10+ years, what could be even better if:

So, what next? If we fast forward 10+ years from today, what I hope we have achieved. 

Next 10 years - What could be even better if

1. The first thing that comes to mind (again) is the shift from ‘doing’ agile to a focus on delivering better outcomes in a more humane world of work. Since the beginning, my connection with agile has been with the values and behaviours, and this hasn’t changed. This is true for many of us who are passionate agility enthusiasts. This is why the BVSSH outcomes resonate with so many.

2. An unintended consequence of our passionate enthusiasm is we have become a critical bunch and often revert to a fixed, negative mindset. We default to pointing out what is wrong and criticising, rather than seeking to understand, giving the benefit of the doubt, and asking ‘what can I learn?’ I have seen this with the infamous ‘frameworks tube map’ and can see this occurring now with SAFe. As each of us aspires to do better and be better, I encourage radical candour and kindness, both to ourselves and others. Our ambition should be to maintain a psychologically safe environment.

3. From our experience over the past 10 years, my hope is that we have learned that a one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t yielded the results that we expected. Instead, a focus on applying patterns to suit the unique context should be our ‘how.’

4. As agile coaches and consultants, we have paved the way and become ‘ski instructors.’ Now, our ambition is to make all leaders, at every level, in every organisation fluent in business agility. This is a muscle that everyone needs to have.

5. Lastly, we need to move beyond the ‘turning point’ in the Age of Digital. This means that we need to have organisations that operate, organise, and behave like modern organisations. Business agility is not a fad. Simply put, it is good business sense if you want to survive and thrive.

Is it too ambitious to hope that we can achieve these shifts in less than 10 years? I hope not.

Signed,

An agility pioneer and enthusiast

P.S. If the ambition for the next 10 years resonates with you, join the #BVSSH movement.

Sign-up here: Community | Sooner Safer Happier

by Maria Muir, 14/12/22