Thinking about switching to Agile? First, check Your Motives

When it comes to Agile, if you’re living by the old adage, “our competitors are doing it so we should too,” stop. If your motives don’t align with the principles of Agile, then making the switch will ultimately hurt your company.

Organizations have tried time and again to raid Apple’s talent pool under the assumption that former Apple employees will solve every talent gap. Indeed, companies would gain a qualified team member however, one size does not fit all. Apple has engineered a company culture of its own that develops its employees under the guidance and vision of Apple. A successful employee of Apple does not mean a successful employee of everywhere.

The same notion applies to Agile. You cannot successfully become Agile by simply copying the practices of your competitors. The value lies in company culture.

If you want to become an Agile organization, keep these valid reasons in mind: resilience, risk reduction, predictability, morale and retention, early ROI, customer satisfaction, simplicity. Above all, organizations that want to go Agile also want to be more ready to adapt to a changing environment.

Take for example the Uber vs. yellow cabs of New York City battle. Uber has transformed the transportation landscape particularly in NYC where the company generates hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, which has the left the taxi and limousine industry reeling. When the problems are clear and solutions replicable, control-focused organizations like NYC’s taxi industry can readily adapt. However, Uber and other for hire car services like Lyft present new and uncertain challenges that reveal the fragile and inflexible tendencies of the more traditional and hierarchical NYC taxi industry.

The pace of innovation has increased like never before and if the response to change isn’t flexible and rapid, whole industries can go up in smoke.

The Cynefin Framework

On Sunday, June 12th, 2016, a gunman entered a gay night club in Orlando, Florida and open fired killing 49 people. Marking the worst mass shooting in American history, Orlando’s police chief must now cope with a plethora of situations all at once. He must deal with grieving families, a frightened community, and direct operations of an entire police department all while being inundated with questions from film crews and the media. Will he be successful at juggling multiple demands in the midst of this horrific tragedy?

Managers often rely on cookie-cutter leadership approaches that work well under one set of circumstances but fail in others. We assume that there is a certain level of predictability and order in the world which encourages simplifications that are useful in ordered circumstances. However, circumstances can change and become more complex. In this environment, simplifications can fail.

Cynefin is a framework for decision making that allows organizations to better understand the problem domains they encounter and to identify the appropriate tools with which to respond. At first glance, the framework can seem a bit overwhelming but can ultimately be broken down into 5 different domains to describe the many relationships between cause and effect:

  • Obvious
  • Complicated
  • Chaotic
  • Complex



These contexts are clear and easy for all to understand. Every stage in a process has predictable and ordered steps. Certain aspects of banking and insurance are examples of this context and are organizations that gain value from a certain degree of structure so individuals follow the rules.


This domain is a little less obvious. Identifying the relationship between cause and effect requires some analysis and perhaps even expert knowledge in order to understand it. Though, once the relationship is understood, best practices can be created.

Remember to keep in mind your own observations and environment when listening to another’s expertise in order to mitigate risk in this domain.


In this domain, the relationship between cause and effect can only be understood after the fact. This domain is unpredictable in which we can only hope to probe and sense rather than plan and control. Different viewpoints are needed to help solve problems.


On the other hand, chaotic domains are much harder to navigate. There is no relationship between cause and effect and the only goal is to simply end the chaos and return to the complex domain. An example of this could a natural disaster.


This is the final domain and is characterized by a lack of understanding of the relationship between cause and effect. In this environment, individuals are more likely to retreat into their comfort zones.

Since most organizations operate under the complex domain, the practices of obvious organizations can no longer persist in a world of unprecedented innovation. Organizations must readily adapt in order to survive and this can be achieved by creating Agile organizations with a mind for the Cynefin Framwork.

Become an Agile organization because you want to see it flourish in a world of complexity, not simply to catch up to the competition. If the idea of change overwhelms you, fear not. Change, in the long haul, will add significant value to your organization.

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