Degree of Agility: How Much to Agile?


Agility is not a one-dimensional concept. Organizations tend to have deep-rooted methods of project execution, and the existing degree of agility needs to be accounted for before switching over to Agile methodologies. Agile promotes a set of ‘principles’ within a broadly defined framework. ‘Framework’, by definition, is a generic concept and set of proposals for the organization to build upon.

A blunt implementation of any framework would seldom be successful. It would be a naïve assumption to believe that all the concepts proposed by the framework are a perfect fit for the organization or the project in question.

One of the key aspects to be considered before implementation of Agile methodologies is the degree of agility suitable for the organization. Due consideration should be given to the ‘current state’ before we create a proposal for the ‘future state’ of agility desired. Neglecting this aspect may invalidate the very purpose behind the endeavor.

Degree of agility refers to the relative ability of an organization to adapt to the lightweight methodologies in conjunction with an assessment of current state process maturity.

Measuring the degree of agility is somewhat subjective. This is inherent to the nature of agility, which is not a quantitative value. Achieving a higher degree of agility implies that a company can achieve more agile values and at the same time realize the benefits forecasted through adoption of Agile.

Degree of agility is determined by:

  1. Flexibility inherent to the organization.
  2. Level of collaboration prevalent.
  3. Openness to change and adaptability.

What is Degree of Agility?

This basically describes how much agility persists. How much flexibility is desired to accomplish the future state of agility, and how is it intended to make the transition? The degree of agility has a direct bearing on the ability of an organization to introduce and implement agile methodologies without radical changes and their consequent resistance.

Why the Degree of Agility?

It is important to understand the existing form of an organization along with its inherent limitation to imbibe the changes required to enhance the degree of agility. A heavily governed process, evolved through decades of implementation, is sometimes difficult to alter abruptly. In order to absorb and adjust to a change in project execution methodologies, the environment should be receptive. This implies that the stakeholders need to be involved from inception and engaged throughout the transition process to seamlessly facilitate the shift.

Some organizations cannot handle a high level of agility. They might prefer a specific level of control and governance as opposed to the desired flexibility required to enhance the degree of agility. The following factors should be deliberated to ascertain the appropriate degree of Agile to be implemented:

  1. Agile may not be a cultural fit. However, the organization may tolerate a degree of agility.
  2. There might be a perception that Agile is chaotic and risky. An educational campaign to promote Agile will go a long way to rectify this perception.
  3. Transitioning over to Agile without clearly defining all parameters may lead to failure.
  4. A few key parameters to be factored in are listed below:
  • Define a tolerable level of flexibility to ensure minimal breaks in the process.
  • Collaboration: It is critical to clearly define the collaboration process. It is not meant for everyone! Formal and documented processes developed through rigorous practice are often difficult to alter. It is important to deliberate and define collaboration from the user’s perspective. It is risky to assume that everybody shares the same interpretation and understanding of collaboration.
  • Iterative and re-planning: The process should be progressively iterative and enable re-planning. It is highly recommended that that everyone understands the structure and definition of an iterative process.

5. Agile does not mean lack of discipline. Discipline along with rigorous implementation of lightweight practices is fundamental to establishing an Agile framework.

How to Determine an Optimum Degree of Agility

There is no set formula to guide us to a degree of agility that is suitable for every organization or project.

The Agile scale is a very fluid concept with no exact measurements. Based upon past experiences, each organization needs to evaluate the desired level of agility. The following strategy is recommended to establish the degree of agility required:

  1. Socialization and training: Start with introducing the concept of agility to the stakeholders. Roll out a program to educate everyone on what is meant by ‘Agile’. A training program to educate people and answer their questions will promote confidence towards the transition.
  2. Evangelize: Promote ‘Agile’. Address any apprehensions that the stakeholders might have. Explain the ‘What’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’.
  3. Hybrid: Start with a hybrid transition. A hybrid transition is a warm introduction to Agile that takes the best of both worlds and merges them to arrive at the desired state.
  4. Start with a low level of agility, and gradually enhance the degree through a consensus.
  5. Improvement process: Continuously invite improvement feedback. Form an implementation committee to govern the improvement process and religiously facilitate the process.
  6. Increase the level of agility iteratively and progressively.

Keep in mind that it is not an overnight process. Agility is a discipline and not a process. Agile is difficult to master. It requires the right mindset, culture, and adoption process.

Agility is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it is instrumental in enhancing the process capability to efficiently manage the environmental challenges. On the other hand, it can be held responsible for the generation of multiple challenges that create operational bottlenecks to restrict the implementation of Agile methodologies.

The degree of agility recommended has a strong correlation between the current state, the desired future, and the quantum change required to implement the transition. Excessive agility derived at the cost of process fragmentation might lead to formidable implications. Thus it is recommended to implement a strategy that balances the desired flexibility under existing constraints. Moreover, the transition to attain an optimum degree of agility should be meretriciously planned and seamlessly executed to reap the desired results.

Author: Adam Alami, PhD Fellow, IT University of Copenhagen

Adam Alami is a PhD fellow at the IT University of Copenhagen. Adam has a wealth of experience in information technology practices. He started his career as a software developer, then moved to business analysis and project management. His 20 years’ experience revolves around major business transformation projects and process improvement. He accumulated a wealth of cross industry experience in major projects in the areas of Enterprise Transformation, Integration, Migration, and Systems Modernization.

He has a track of academic achievements. He holds a Bachelor degree on Software Engineering from the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM) and a Master degree on Computing from the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

Email: [email protected]


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