For this month's Stride Tech Talk, Stride CEO Debbie Madden discussed 3rd Wave Agile with David J. Bland. David J. Bland is the Founder and CEO of San Francisco based Precoil. Precoil offers workshops and training designed to help startup founders use lean startup and design thinking to rapidly find problem/solution fit and product/market fit.
Debbie: What is 3rd Wave Agile?
David: 3rd Wave Agile is a movement that I'm witnessing in modern organizations to expand agility throughout the business. A few of us in the community are now using the phrase. Since I'm a hopeless coffee addict and in the San Francisco Bay Area, I borrowed the concept from 3rd Wave Coffee. If you read up on 3rd Wave Coffee you'll see that it is an effort to make coffee less of a commodity and more of an artisanal food stuff. I think this is what's happening to agile in a way, making it less of a commodity and more impactful.
I've also seen agile go through a couple of waves already in my career.
1st Wave Agile began during the Agile Manifesto and focused mostly on delivering working software.
2nd Wave Agile followed as we began exploring what it means to expand agile beyond working software and self organizing teams.
3rd Wave Agile is the notion of business agility, bringing agile principles to the entire organization.
Debbie : What is "OS level" and why is it so important to include the (OS) level of your organization in Agile?
David: OS is short for Operating System. Eric Ries refers to this as the Deep Systems in his new book, The Leader's Guide. I think we are on similar paths. The Operating System Level (OS Level) of the organization includes the fundamental parts of the system and how they interact, which keep the organization functioning.
Performance Reviews and Budgets are examples of the OS Level.
Agile rarely survives in an environment that still stack ranks employees and has big bang, annual budgets. The OS Level needs to be addressed eventually. Most of the agile we've seen is still at the UX Level (User Experience Level) of the organization with sticky notes and standups. These are great, we just need to permeate into the OS Level for a long term impact.
A few large, notable corporations are beginning to exhibit this change. Notice how GE is phasing out stack ranking and changing how they fund their budgets. Others will soon follow their lead.
Debbie: Why do you think teams are embracing 3rd Wave Agile now?
David: I think specifically leadership teams are beginning to understand that agile, as it relates to delivering software, simply is not enough. It doesn't matter if you can deliver features faster if the rest of your organization is waterfall. In some cases it actually makes things worse, since you deliver waste faster.
We also have software continuing to eat traditional companies, such as retail, automotive and finance. There are many more business books circulating which are referring to agile principles, even if not explicitly using the agile terminology. We are seeing a resurgence in concepts like Design Thinking and Lean. This isn't a coincidence. As leadership teams have to deal with extreme market uncertainty while creating software, they look beyond the ability to deliver things the right way.
They want to deliver the right thing, the right way.
Debbie: What do you see as the major shift in this in the next year or two?
David: Over the next year or two I see traditional companies either coming to grips with business agility or going extinct. If you look around, things aren't necessarily getting slower out there. Agile has laid the groundwork for continuous integration, which has grown into continuous delivery and now continuous deployment. It used to be enough to deploy code every month and then every two weeks, now it's daily or even several times a day. Amazon deploys code every 11.6 seconds.
Traditional companies and their leadership teams are going to have to use this extreme market uncertainty as leverage for change. We'll see who does and who doesn't.