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If agile is the answer to an unpredictable world, what is the answer when agile becomes unpredictable?

One of the most important reasons why we implement agile, is also one of the most fragile ones: Agile gives us stability in an unpredictable world.

It offers great value that we know the approach and the processes which we will use to solve tomorrow's challenges. But what if the agile processes are unstable and unpredictable? What if the stability of the processes turns out to be just words in a textbook? Have we then become too agile?

Why do our agile processes become unstable?

The agile conversions gives many "here and now" wins e.g. faster time to market, increased employee satisfaction, increased transparency and higher customer satisfaction. These wins are achieved as a result of deciding an agile approach, and implementing this relatively uncompromisingly to shorten the implementation period, and thereby getting the fastest possible ROI on the large investment of switching to agile.

Together with the agile transformation the construction of the agile mindset begins, and soon the challenges begin to arise.
The agile mindset becomes the fuel for continuous improvements and then the changes begin to occur in massive numbers. Many changes are handled in a way that makes it almost impossible to predict from day to day, let alone from week to week. These rapid and uncontrolled changes courses instability in the agile processes and results in varying workflows and frustrated employees.
In addition, the instability will most likely be the cause of unreasonable cost when new standard elements need to be embedded in processes e.g. from new compliance regulations such as GDPR etc.

When we want the agile mindset to thrive and grow, we must look at the context surrounding the mindset. For many sectors their context is a very regulated and process driven and that must be reflected in our solution.

So how can we hold on to an uncompromising approach without selling out on continuous improvements and continuously build the agile mindset?

A simple answer to a complex challenge

What methods give us stability in processes? Well, we know that LEAN and Agile are two companions who thrive best in symbiosis, and not individually.

LEAN itself is a set of tools that can be used for many types of business improvements. However, the market have realized that Agile is a holistic and better approach for most knowledge-driven companies, and because of that realization LEAN has been driven to a side-track by many agile experts.

When we improve an agile process we should see the improvement as an experiment. By using a simple template and a LEAN tool, such as the PDCA-circle, to document our experiment, we create transparency and alignment in our experiment. Transparency should include:

  • What experiment (improvement/change) do we want to try?

  • What do we expect to happen?

  • What actually happened?

  • What have we learned?

Alignment will come from the next step:

  • Was our experiment successful?

  • If yes, then we update our agile process (Variety of “Standardized Work from LEAN), and implement on a broad scale in the organization

I know that many agile expects will recent the phrase “Standardized Work” which originates from LEAN, because it conflicts with a part of the Agile Manifesto, where we have learned to value “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”[1]. But in my opinion we should not neglect the wise words of Taiichi Ohno[2]: “Without standards, there can be no improvements”.

If we force improvements throughout the agile organization without standards or alignment, we will end up with a serious challenge.

It may sound simple that LEAN is the answer to our challenges of unstable agile processes - but the fact is that with the simple tools LEAN provides, we will be able to maintain the stability in agile processes which we wanted in the first place, when we decided for an agile method and introduced it without compromise.

We must hold on to the uncompromising approach because it is the one direct thing that drives us onwards to bigger and greater wins with agile. However we should continue to demand simple practices and tools to do so, and for that the answer is LEAN.

[1] Source:

[2] Wikipidia: “He is considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System, which became Lean Manufacturing in the U.S.”

Are you realizing the full potential of Agile?

Do you need advice on adapting agile processes? At NNIT, we have leading agile experts who can help you in your agile transformation.



Kristina Ernstsen+45 30778875KTET@nnit.comManaging ConsultantKristina Ernstsen



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