Sandals, Sneakers, Corporate, or true Business Agile coaching and consulting?

Published 11 Feb 2019

We have noticed that agile coaches and consultants come in many flavors. A common joke is that management consultants with pride always feel the need to organize the world into two by two matrices. We are, of course, no exception.

On the vertical axis we have static to agile mindset, and on the horizontal we have the level of structure and coordination. This gives us four distinct types of agile coaching or consulting.

”Adhoc Agile"

In the lower left corner we find ”Adhoc Agile.” This is where teams and individuals think they are very agile, but in reality they are not using any flow oriented principles. They are not using consistent feed-back and other course correcting mechanisms. In short it is mostly about not planning and acting randomly. It is extremely difficult to get any predictability out of such an organization. On the structure dimension these organizations score very low. There is no use of standardized processes. Coordination and alignment is also low. Organizations like this can function, but usually only up to a certain size, and they are very dependent on a few individuals to act as heroes and somehow make it all work. There are not many coaches and consultants advocating this mode of operation. Often this is the starting point for transformations. In many ways it can be more difficult than starting from Waterfall, since they believe they are agile already.

”Religious Agile” (Sometimes referred to as "Sandals and Cardigans”)

On the top left quadrant we find the organizations that have adopted the agile principles all the way. We call these guys ”Religious Agile." It is like a religion, where the principles are almost like commands found on stone tablets. There is only one way. Radical ideas are taken to the extreme. There is only self-organization. Real agile does not need coordinating layers and structure for alignment. The best way to scale is not to scale. From the outside it all seems very touchy-feely. Board members, auditors and other square people just need to accept how things are, because the Feng Shui of the principles says so. It also seems like there is a dress code where sandals and cardigans are a requirement in this group, which is amusing. 

”Corporate Agile"

In the lower right corner we find the ”Corporate Agile” bunch. Here structure is everything. Self-organization might work in small scale according to them. For anything bigger than a football team there must be structure. Lots of structure. They also need checklists. Many checklists. And long. Best practice is called best practice because it is best, right? Process needs to be defined to 100% before we can start. The coaches in this quadrant usually come from large consulting organizations that excel in structure and have a lot of collateral to bring into their assignments. Actually, before they make any changes, they need a 100 page analysis of the current situation. Then there is a need to define the wanted position exactly. And make a fool-proof plan for execution of the change. It is a bit ironic that a waterfall process or mindset is used to transform organizations to become agile.

”Business Agile"

Finally we have the top right quadrant. This is were we understand the principles and mindset that the Religious Agile is advocating, but know that it needs to be combined with enough structure to make it work in the real world. We also understand that perfect plans, best practice, and 100% defined processes kills the learning organization. Board members, authorities and auditors need to be able to understand and see the information required for them to do their jobs. There needs to be profitability in the business, and salaries must be payed. Coaches and consultants in this quadrant have worked with large organizations and know how to challenge them just enough to take the right steps towards agility and towards becoming a learning organization. But this takes skill, and it is important to know where and when to stand firm on the points of some of the principles. The name of this quadrant is ”Business Agile” because that is what it is all about. Making the whole organization agile, not just some parts. Doing that requires both the agile mindset and the right structure and organization. It also requires step wise transformation through pragmatism and iterations. 

At Knowit Insight we believe we are in the ”Business Agile” quadrant, helping organizations move to that quadrant to achieve speed and success. We also think many other consultants are in the other quadrants. Interestingly we find fundamentalists in both the ”Corporate Agile” as well as ”Religious Agile” quadrants. The ”Religious Agile” camp mandates that agility has to be completely free and self organizing with no ”heavy frameworks” only following the very light weight Agile Manifesto. The opposite fundamentalist view is advocated by the ”Corporate Agile" where you have to implement the complete frameworks by the book and follow checklists 100%. 

We see the benefits of both freedom and structure and know how to balance and navigate. We make organizations faster. We organize for speed. We organize for the future.

Are we really one of the few in the Business Agile quadrant? Are there reasons to be in the other quadrants? What do you think?


Per Brandt
Business Development Director in Scaled Agile & Lean

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