What is the Agile model of software development? Instead of using the traditional "waterfall" approach to building software (which involves a step-by-step process of requirements definition, refinement, and software engineering - often taking years), today software companies develop systems in weekly "sprints" (a software release every week), and meet every day in a 15 minute "scrum" to make sure that everyone knows what to do and they have the information they need to get things done.
This agile model (which is now well known in Silicon Valley and in the software engineering world) has transformed software. It has many benefits: it reduces the long cycle times that create risk; it enables engineers to take advantage of the fact that requirements change quickly; and it honors the fact that people perform best when they work on small projects they can finish quickly.
Agile is also built on the understanding that people learn in small chunks - so while it may in fact take a year or two to build a highly complex website, no person needs to try to understand the entire engineering program in advance. And as the image on the right shows, daily work becomes a part of a bigger project in a continuous, dynamic process.
I have worked on several large software projects in my career (one big failure at Sybase and another big failure at DigitalThink) - and in both cases the projects failed because they took too long, there were continuous changes in requirements, and rapid market shifts made it impossible to "keep up" while business needs were changing. I remember Dave Litwak, one of the founder of PowerSoft (a pioneering company in client/server software) told me that "any software project which takes more than two years to ship will be a flop." He was right.
The Agile model is now revolutionizing management, HR, and L&D.
Everything which makes Agile work for software also works for management, leadership, and HR. Management and HR Processes are too slow, they don't reflect business changes fast enough, and they dont give people fast-enough feedback and learning.
Think, for example, about the frequently-criticized traditional employee performance management process. The traditional process (which more than 60% of all organizations find highly ineffective), is a year-long waterfall process. Managers set goals (annually or quarterly) using some cascading process, track these goals periodically, and at the end of the year the managers collects feedback and "deliver" the performance review. The result: in most companies the process is uncomfortable, riddled with frustration, and often out of date.
Consider the problems inherent in this "waterfall" process:
Look at where Agile fits in Management and HR:
Look at Rypple - a hot young company which is revolutionizing the process of social performance management in companies like Facebook, Gilt Groupe, Rackspace, and other fast-moving organizations. Rypple brings Agile to performance management and coaching, competing with the more traditional approach offered by SuccessFactors, Taleo, Oracle, and others.
Look at I Love Rewards, a similarly fast-growing company which is applying the agile model to rewards and recognition. I Love Rewards is upsetting the traditional "waterfall" model for rewards and recognition, a $48 billion marketplace, by giving companies a platform and set of tools to let employees recognize each other on a continuous, highly engaging basis.
Read about how Atlassian, one of the fastest growing software companies in the world, manages its performance feedback process. Joris Luijke, the VP of HR, has totally rewritten the rules and mentions the use of other new tools like small-improvements, and cadence.
Consider what has happened to the corporate training industry. While formal education and training has not disappeared, today people want to learn "on the job" through informal and social networks on a real-time basis. This is a form of "agile learning" - demonstrating the same shift from "waterfall" to "agile" we see in software. Companies throughout the training market are scrambling to build informal learning solutions into their offerings - and products like Jive, Chatter, and Sharepoint are now becoming standard tools for informal learning.
The world has become more "instant" every day. Companies which can adapt to agile management models will move faster and out-perform their competitors. Think about how you can implement the Agile model of management and HR in your organization this year.
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Josh Bersin writes on the ever-changing landscape of business-driven learning, HR and talent management.
His favorite topics include strategic talent management, creating high-impact learning organizations,
and how organizations drive business change and competitive advantage through talent strategy and technology.
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