Is ‘agility’ killing enterprises?


Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out. – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Isn’t true for the enterprise as well?

The whole concept of agility is antithetical to the concept of enterprise. Enterprise means a large, huge monolithic structure and it is normal for the enterprise to shine in the tradition of a century old hierarchical bureaucratic management. When things become large, we know, they tend to lose agility or become stiff, rigid. On the other hand, agility says ‘small is beautiful’.

Big ship vs flotillas
Enterprises often don’t try to create a 21st century nimble network of small teams, rather stay in their comfort zone and preserve monolithic, bureaucratic structure. Most of the enterprises (which I have seen) look to agile as another ‘process’ which could be ‘handed off’ to the process department of the organization. In other words, enterprises continue to navigate the big ship vs creating flotillas to respond to the disruptions of hyper connected startups.

Old wine in an agile bottle
Big consulting firms strictly devoid of expertize to promote true agility sell the most archaic form of waterfall wrapped in an agile package. The prime goal of the big consulting firms is to maximize profit, means do more work, not maximize ‘the work not done’. Also one enterprise finds a natural ally in another enterprise.

Agile adoption or agile adaptation?
Many scaled agile thinkers don’t miss the opportunity of being first in selling their brand of agility essentially keeping the enterprise mega structure intact and retrofitting agile process into the enterprise process. A big disservice to the agile community like it or not. In short just like big consulting firms, scaled agile vendors don’t know what they are doing (except making more money), nor do enterprises know if they need agile adoption or agile adaptation.

The battle of ignorance
In this battle of ignorance enterprises are getting decimated, and the trend will continue until they regroup themselves as a network of small autonomous teams and start acting small (like a startup) in a big enterprise domain. These companies must become hyper learner, allowing them to deliver value even in hypercompetitive markets. They must get comfortable with being uncomfortable very quickly, or else there is virtually no chance to withstand the pressure and demands of changing economy.

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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