Decode the agile DNA in your organization

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Principles behind Agile Manifesto say Build projects around motivated individuals. According to Stephen Covey, the difference between poorly motivated and highly motivated employees is about 500% in productivity.

But finding a flattened, demotivated team is pretty common where agility is treated as yet another process at work with great principles that ‘does not work’. Agile practices implemented badly make people miserable, but even if implemented nicely, it looks more like a ‘cargo culture’; it rarely motivates anybody to work much harder or smarter.

So what should you do to get 500% productivity? Try experimenting with the following five factors and you would be able to see the world of difference.

A shared purpose

Give a clean shared purpose to your employees. A shared purpose is a very powerful tool which drives natural collaboration and keeps employees motivated. Earning profit may not be a good shared purpose but transforming the user experience could be a good one. On April 14, 1970, when an oxygen-tank on Apollo 13 exploded during the third manned mission to the Moon, it seemed that the three-member crew was doomed. Upon hearing the words, “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” NASA knew that it had to abort the mission and find a way of bringing the three astronauts back 200,000 miles to Earth ASAP. Individuals, teams, and groups came together, poured over data, ideated on blackboards, restrooms, and over water coolers, came up with solutions, tried to implement them, failed — and tried again until they succeeded. For two days, the goal of saving the three astronauts’ lives became everyone’s purpose. (Source: HBR)


Truth or transparency strengthens the sense of purpose. Truth must be exposed at all levels – truth about the quality of a product backlog, quality of product delivery, product performance in market, or even the performance of code at operations level. And the buck does not stop there; the truth should be visible at all levels in all the departments – accounting, finance, ops, and support. The truth builds great trust in the product and company.


You should try to achieve goals in small bits versus making a large batch push. It could be in the form of well-orchestrated goal-oriented Sprints so that you could go to the market virtually every Sprint instead of doing a mega project with multiple features in 6 months. Companies tend to float large ‘ships’ vs flotillas. No matter how great you are at agile practices, it sets the wrong cultural undertone of doing ‘big’ vs realizing small wonders. Similarly, the concept of bit should be coded in the company DNA and reflected in virtually every action a company takes – org changes, performance review, budgeting etc.


Agile, as we know, encourages the ‘pull model’. We pull stories into Sprint, developers pull the tasks, and there is no room for ‘pushing’ anything. In other words the ‘pull model’ permits choice. A workplace where people are encouraged to pull becomes more vibrant, creative, and responsive. If the organization pushes information, changes, or decisions people just shut their brain and wait for another push.


Create a set up where people realize their natural self and see the boost in productivity and relevance. The traditional criteria for excellence in majority of companies are promotion, raise, and rewards.  That works well in a bureaucratic set up. While they definitely tend to motivate in the short term, the ultimate motivator is Daniel Pink’s trifecta of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. But the bureaucratic companies are not structured to promote those traits.

Ashok is an agile thinker, innovator, writer, and entrepreneur. Ashok specializes in helping companies adopt and improve their use of agile practices to build extremely high-performance organizations.

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