Productivity & Effectiveness

Agility Basics

By 21/09/2020 No Comments

Releasing agility is what I do here at Cultivated Management. No matter your industry, no matter your product, there is always agility to release. On this page you will find links, articles and videos to get you thinking about Releasing Agility in your organisation. 

Releasing Agility

The model I use with clients is based on 5 stages of thinking. If you’d like to explore how we could work together, then my service offerings page has more about the engagement model. 

Cultivated Change - 5 Stages Poster


  • Step 1Do you have a Painted Picture of the Future?
    • Why are you doing what you are doing?
    • Does everyone in your team know what this bright future looks like?
    • Are people aligned and energised to be working on this amazing bright future?
  • Step 2What obstacles are stopping you achieving this future state?
    • If this bright future is so amazing, why are you not already there?
    • In other words, what obstacles and problems do you need to work through?
    • Is there a strategy explaining the bright future, the current reality and a plan to overcome these obstacles?
    • This requires studying real problems; not myths, rumours, opinions and conjecture.
  • Step 3 – Build the team to get it done
    • As a manager or leader you should be able to look at your team and say with confidence that “This is the team to get it done”.
      • If you can’t – you have some work to do – is that work being done?
    • Your team need a plan – and this is where strong HR initiatives and competent management is crucial.
  • Step 4 – Define the behaviours, habits and routines for success
    • Your culture is nothing more than group habit – it’s the sum of everyone’s behaviours.
    • Do you know what behaviours you want? Which one’s you don’t want? And are your managers working to nudge these behaviours in the right direction?
    • Are your managers role modelling these outstanding behaviours?
    • This is also about “System of productivity”
      • Are you adopting an off-the-shelf framework designed to solve problems you likely don’t have?
      • No single methodology or approach is the right one for all – the best approach is the one that solves your problems
      • Please don’t adopt an Agile Methodology unless you know for certain it solves the very problems you have identified – the chances are none of them will…..
  • Step 5 – Iterate, learn and improve
    • Instigate on-the-job-training
    • Make learning a core part of every conversation
    • Conduct root cause analysis
    • Get better – always

How to Release Agility in your organisation

In this video I walk through what Releasing Agility looks like, and how to start thinking about getting started.

If you’d prefer to read, then here is the article


The Principles of Agility

It’s pretty tough to come up with some hard and fast rules for releasing agility. Instead, I like to be guided by general principles. This leaves room for contextual differences when working with clients. 

Here are the principles.

If you’d prefer to read them – here is the article


Agility belongs to managers and leaders

It’s my firm belief, that the way to release agility is through managers and leaders. 

Agility requires knowing where you are going, knowing what’s stopping you, having the team to get it done, instilling and role modelling the right behaviours and learning about the system of work.

All of which are Leadership and Management responsibilities.

Not only are they the responsibility of Leaders and Managers, but by careful studying you will spot levers to pull.

Levers that unleash great potential, remove giant blockers and open up the path way for Agility to be released. Managers and Leaders have bigger levers to pull (org structure, financial etc). 

How to measure agility

I often get asked how to measure agility, and which maturity model or spider map I use. After I stop laughing at using maturity models and spider maps I offer the following 6 measures:

1 – Your business results

I’m amazed at how few managers really know what they’re expected to deliver. I’m amazed even more by how few consultants helping companies release agility ever work these out too. They are the primary measure. 

After all, there is little point in moving smoothly and quickly towards your goals – and not achieving the results you are expected to achieve. 

Put them front and foremost. 

2 – Velocity

In a sense, a classic measure of agile, how fast are we delivering work. 

3 – Throughput

How much work are we actually putting out. A common problem I see with teams is that not much is getting delivered. It may be speedy, but it’s not much. Or sometimes, the reason is nothing is being delivered because too much is being worked on….nicely on to measure 4.

4 – Work in Process

How much work is currently being worked on, or is at least in the mix. All too often I see teams with too much work in process. Too much being worked on. Too much multi-tasking. At the end of the sprint, or month, or year plenty of things are nearly done. Not much IS done. It’s better to do one thing 100%, then the next, then the next than it is to cram too much in and hope for the best. 

5 – Cycle Time

How long does work take to complete? Are we stable in our delivery? Or do we have wild swings. Measure from the start to the end of the entire process of delivery – and between every stage in between too. It won’t tell you what is causing the outliers – but it will give you somewhere to start looking. 

6 – Failure Demand

How much of the work we are doing is failure related? As in, we didn’t do it right, or not at all, in the first place. John Seddon created this brilliant idea – and it works! In one team, 64% of the work was failure demand – work that they were doing from an earlier failure. Is that what we want our teams working on? Find the root cause and fix it. And let’s try and get our teams working on value demand. 

To release agility unblock and solve the real problems

There’s a classic systems thinking idea that I’ve been practising for years – even before I had heard about it. 


There are typically two main reasons facing a business

1 – Limits to growth and delivery

Many managers and leaders PUSH for more.

More people. More capacity. More work. More hours

The solution is NOT to push. It is to identify the very things stopping growth and delivery – and remove them.

Think confusion, lack of direction, competing goals, compensation that rewards bad behaviour, lack of decision making, too many governance boards, sporadic and disparate behaviours, low performance, old technology, poor process

2 – Shifting of problems, failures and burdens

Many managers and leaders bring in coaches to solve management problems.

They engage in short term incentives that bring out the worst in people. They offer bonuses for delivery over systematically improving the process. 

They embrace a Hero Culture, when they should be succession planning and mitigating against single points of failure. 

They move people to the side, or even worse, other teams, instead of dealing with poor performance. 

They buy off the shelf solutions, or silver bullet consultancy packages to fix problems they don’t understand – therefore pushing the burden to others. 

The solutions is not to deal with the symptoms, but to address the real problems – and fix them. 

After all, the easy solutions often lead to the problems of tomorrow. 

Managers stop destroying agility

Most organisations start out with immense amounts of agility. They have to. They are testing the market, launching a product, trying to get customers. Job roles are fluid. People chip in. Work gets shipped – it has to.

Over time though this agility gets destroyed by well intentioned leaders and managers adding rules, regulations, handovers, functional budgeting etc. 

If we are to release agility by breaking down the very things stopping us, then it also makes sense not to continue destroying agility at the same time. As managers have stifled creativity and agility – they can also then fix it. 

Understand the delivery process to Release Agility

In order to release agility we need to understand the delivery process we are in charge of. 

If we are to move quickly and smoothly towards our goals it pays to focus our attention on the delivery process itself. 

The best way to do this is to study it, map it out and then improve it. 

A technique I use is calling “Stapling”. Where we staple ourselves to the work and join it on its adventure through the system. 

We can then visualise this process, cry a little, show others, and then see areas for improvement. 

It’s not easy though. I did a full post on how to Staple Yourself to Work as well as this short video. 

If you need any support when Releasing Agility and gaining a real business agility advantage – don’t hesitate to get in touch

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