What is agility and what is it not?

By Lukas Bargel, published on 30 November 2022

People who used to hire cleaners can now use their own dusting robots at lower cost. People who used to have to wait on hold at the cab office can now book an Uber. The world is changing - and agility is part of the solution. But what exactly is agility? And how does it help us deal with change better?  

What is changing for us? 

The world is changing. For us, this brings challenges as well as relief. The future is becoming uncertain and harder to predict.  
At the same time, the world is also becoming more complex and ambiguous. When we make decisions, it no longer affects just us as a person, group or nation. Globalization allows us all to see ourselves as one big system in which we influence each other.   

This uncertainty does not only affect individuals. It affects companies just as much. Markets, customer demands and technologies are changing rapidly. So how are companies supposed to adapt to the changes when no one knows exactly what will happen? How can they offer appropriate products if customers don't even know what they want tomorrow? 

The answer is to remain light-footed and flexible without completely giving up stability - this is exactly where agility comes in.  

What is the advantage of agility? 

Agility is the opposite of rigidity. It is the ability not to break in the face of change, and even to become stronger, to develop further.  

Agility says goodbye to rigid goals and structures: products and processes can always be improved. People can always continue to learn.
Through this way of thinking, "agile organizations" see themselves as a learning community.

It is part of everyday life to present unfinished, but further developed versions of a product, so-called increments - also to customers. Only in this way is it possible to react quickly to new requirements and increasing complexity.   

But what exactly is agility? 

"So agility means daring to present unfinished product versions? And then I just keep working on the product as I see fit? If that's all there is to it, then yes, it's easy!" 

This thought is not so true. Unfortunately, similar myths and claims about agility often surface. As a result, companies often introduce agile methods sporadically, but have not internalized the essential agile mindset.  

So it's worth clearing up some of these myths around agility:  

  • Myth 1: Agility is "aimless spontaneous starting without long-term orientation".

A common misconception is that agility is haphazard and without goals. This is not correct.  
Long-term orientation is provided by the vision created by the product owner (PO) in consultation with the stakeholders at the beginning. It contains the context, goals and benefits of the product to be developed. How the vision is achieved, in contrast to project management, is not determined from the outset. The motto is continuous adaptation and reaction. Functions of the product are planned, introduced and reviewed in a regular cycle (PDCA cycle). This ensures reliability and promotes planning and learning. In the case of several teams, a common rhythm enables synchronization and a good flow of work.

feedback loop im agilen arbeiten

  • Myth 2: Agility is "absence of planning 

Auch im agilen Arbeiten gibt es Planung. Anders als im klassischen Projektmanagement, ist sie nicht unbeweglich, sondern leichtfüßig. Agil zu arbeiten heißt kurzfristig und flexibel zu planen. Pläne dürfen umgeworfen werden. Neue Ideen und Arbeitsweisen sind herzlich willkommen. Aber auch hier gilt: Es wird nicht alles einfach irgendwie gemacht. Grundlage für die Planung sind erfahrungsbasierte Erkenntnisse und empirisch getestete Methoden 

  • Myth 3: Agility is laissez-faire 

In agile working, employees are given more freedom. For example, in the Scrum framework: Here, the members of the development team plan their tasks. They think independently about how to achieve their sprint goal. To do this, they create sub-tasks, for example, and decide for themselves how much time is needed for them. The work is therefore divided up by the team and no longer by the manager. In addition to great freedom, this also entails great responsibility. Instead of laissez-faire, agile working demands more responsibility and discipline from employees than classic project management.  

  • Myth 4: Agility is "unstructured brainstorming 

The fact that the team has freedom in shaping its work does not mean that there is no structure. Meetings in the agile way of working are not wild brainstorming sessions without effective results. Instead, structured and effective agile methods are used. One example of this is timeboxing. Here, fixed blocks of time (the timebox) are reserved for tasks. Beforehand, it is precisely defined what is to be achieved at the end of the timebox. The scheduled time must not be exceeded under any circumstances. This helps to work in a focused and disciplined manner.

What is agility - our conclusion  

Agility is therefore not absolute freedom without hand and foot. Instead, agile working tries to find a good balance between free creative thinking and structured ways of working. You can think of it as similar to our logo animal, the Nile Cheetah - a stable base, like that of a hippopotamus, combined with the agility of a cheetah.

Using agility correctly

Finding a good mix is not always easy and requires some basic knowledge of agile methods. If you are interested in agile, feel free to contact Timmermann Partners at any time. We will be happy to help you with a no-obligation initial consultation and determine together how we can best support you. 

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Lukas Bargel
Project Leader

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