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Agile coach: recipes for success #2

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Agility, safety and biomimicry. How will Agility evolve?  

After more than 50 years of development, what does the future have in store for the Agile approach? Will we still be talking about Agility and Agile values 20 years from now? Although we cannot provide reliable answers to these questions, we can still put forward an embryonic explanation via the biomimetic prism.

What is biomimicry?

Let us begin with a definition from the Larousse dictionary: biomimicry can be applied to any entity that “strives to imitate the processes of nature in living organisms”. In other words, biomimicry consists of looking at what 4.5 billion years of evolution has tried and tested. Then, inspired by established life processes and functions, just imagine the contribution of ongoing improvement over 2 week cycles and no fewer than 117,321,428,571 iterations (if you can, feel free to do the math!).

In this article, we will attempt to forecast the future, or rather the future of Agility 20 years from now, based on observation and concrete analysis of nature over several thousand years. A noble ambition! Agility is a natural behaviour pattern whereas preplanning is not.

Looking back at the origins of man

As human beings, we are ‘naturally’, in the etymological sense of the term, in a state of meta-stability, which means one that appears to be stable, approaching AGILITY. However, over time, our education and culture have driven us towards anticipation and planning.

For us, the major underlying cause of this change turns out to be our sedentarization. It led us to become inventive and create forward planning: Is it going to rain? When is the best time to start harvesting? How many animals do I need to keep for my herd to be viable? Sedentarization has led us to plan ahead.

However, if forward planning was already present among certain species in extreme environments that exhibit cyclical behaviour, nature has largely favoured and promoted the ability to adapt to change.

Furthermore, even though Darwin’s theory of evolution has been largely revised since 2009, it referred to adaptation as being a key factor in the survival of a species:

“The species that survive are not the strongest or the smartest, but the ones that best adapt to change.” Darwin  

Adapting to change is key to ensuring the survival of AGILITY 

One of AGILE’s foundation values is that it is an empirical process, just like Scrum which relies on trial and error. Within an AGILE team, change and chance are seen as opportunities rather than hostile events that must be resisted:

Adaptation is preferred to strictly following a plan, not because it is a question of being resigned to it, but because this is where innovation and value creation benefit the customer.

Furthermore, Agilists also prefer experimentation and testing rather than making a choice between two theoretical solutions and simply letting the context, by which I mean the customer, supplier or market, decide what works and what doesn’t. They move forward by carrying out quick tests to avoid following a false lead. The goal is to make mistakes as quickly as possible, leaving no time for repercussions (Fail Fast).

In order to build the metaphor, if we applied Agile energy to an animal species, would it be particularly apt for survival? In other words, is Agility an “animal” capable of surviving? Yes, but… To answer this question, we need to clearly identify the Agile mindset, driven by values and principles as well as Agile methods and frameworks (SCRUM / LEAN / XP / SAFe / Less /etc).

It is a fact that if an ongoing and particularly competitive theoretical viewpoint appears viable, it does not unnecessarily mean that it will uphold the opposite case.

Durable Agility and Agility. Do they both have a ‘Scalable’ future?

At conferences, meet ups and during various discussions, I am hearing more and more people saying that the future of agility lies in ‘scalability’.

I also hear it said that agile organisations need to master and apply ‘scalable’ agility frameworks (Safe, Less, Nexus) that are often effective in enabling their path towards agility to be fruitful and ongoing.

We have gone through organisational, salutary and competitive anarchy, according to Darwin, who then redefined stricter models which are to be followed to the letter. You can also read Henrik Kniberg on this subject, who experiments with and rehabilitates Safe.

However, as far as possible evolution, agility and high efficiency in the short-term are concerned, I doubt that, ultimately, this “evolutionary branch” will survive the rigours of natural selection. ‘Scalable’ agility is a mutant destined to fall into an evolutionary abyss.

The Kwasa Frog

To back up this idea, we can use some notions of species’ adaptive dynamics and tell the story of the mutant frog Kwasa and the heron.

The Kwasa frog croaks to communicate. Particularly for reproduction. The correlation between croaking volume and breeding frequency of Kwasa males has been established. The louder a male sings, the more he is heard – and the more he is heard, the more likely he is to reproduce. As a result, mutation after mutation, this species finally evolved into a breed of super amphibious singers.

However, due to the Kwasa frogs’ powerful singing, they have become very easy prey for their natural predator, the heron, which has no trouble finding and devouring them. Kwasa frogs have therefore fallen into an evolutionary trap. They can no longer continue their evolution by singing loudly because they will get eaten up. Neither can they evolve by singing more quietly because the females are not interested in ‘weak’ singers.

Using this metaphor, the Scalable Agility Framework cannot be likened to mutants falling into an evolutionary trap like the Kwasa frog. Although currently very competitive, they seem to be too robust, unbending and directive to evolve easily.

So, if I see the Agile mindset survive the next wave of theoretical thinking, likely to arrive within the next 20 years according to Kondratiev’s theory, with a holistic methodology (one which is capable of constituting components that are greater than the sum of their parts), I find it difficult to see well-defined and robust methodologies (by extension) survive this next upheaval.

Promote AGILE decay!  

My recommendations: “Agilists, advocate AGILE decay. Invest in sustainable change rather than “scalable” solutions”:

If the Agile thought stream is fit for purpose, the fitness of a mutant corresponds to its rate of growth in the environment established by its residents’ traits, developing and flourishing within the Taylorism of the 19th century. This makes it unlikely that over dirigiste models will be able to survive the next major upheaval.

What do you think of that? Do not hesitate to leave constructive feedback in the comments because, as Socrates said, “I believe that there is no better way of living than seeking to become better or anything more pleasant than being fully aware of one’s own improvement.”