I’ve heard people ask “What is “hyper agile?”. Is it just “marketing hype”? This is a relatively new term so I decided to do some research on it. It’s not as simple as you might think.
“Hyper Agile” Definitions
Here are some definitions that I found:
“‘Hyper-agile’ is defined as:https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/agile-hyperagile-destination-journey-10182
Hyperagility seeks to drive an agile culture further, beyond the walls of any one product team or project, embedding it into the organisational DNA. This is hyperagility.“
“Hyperagile organisations are designed to adapt quickly to changes in business, economic, and geopolitical environments. They rely on trust and accountability to let employees take initiatives that lead to innovation and rapid execution.”Cavarec, Y. & Fargis, B. (2016). From agile to hyperagile: the destination and the journey. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2016—EMEA, Barcelona, Spain. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
What Does “Hyper Agile” Really Mean?
In the above connotations, the term, “hyper Agile” has been equated with an organizational implementation of Agile where an Agile culture and approach to management permeates the whole organization from top-to-bottom. My first reaction to that is that sounds like just “marketing hype” for something that we’ve known all along that any Agile implementation will have limited success if it doesn’t include some level of organizational transformation. There are typically at least two levels that need to be addressed:
- Project Level – We’ve known for a long time that at a project level, in most cases, Agle cannot be successfully implemented without some level of organizational transformation:
- In order for an Agile implementation to be successful at a project level, there has to be somewhat of a collaborative partnership between the development team and the business users where the business users play an active role in providing feedback and inputs and reviewing results as the project is in progress.
- That often requires breaking down some stovepipes that typically exist in many organizations that are based on somehwhat of an “arms-length”, contractual relationship between the business and the development team.
- Organizational Level – We also know that a full organizational implementation of Agile goes beyond that project-level implementation and addresses the higher levels management functions of the organization beyond the project level which would include such things as strategic business planning, portfolio management, project/program management, etc.
- The ideal would be a seamless integration of an Agile management system from top-to-bottom throughout the whole organization.
- That’s not a trivial thing to do and there has been a concerted effort to define frameworks that organizations can use to accomplish that goal. The two that are most widely-used are the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) originally created by Dean Leffingwell and Disciplined Agile by Scott Ambler and PMI; but as many people will recognize, it takes a lot of skill to implement either one of those frameworks and neither one of those frameworks provides a “cookbook solution” to this problem.
These are things we’ve known about Agile for a long time, so I think “hyper Agile” is just a cool marketing buzzword and it doesn’t really imply anything that we haven’t known all along.
What Does a Complete Enterprise-level Agile Implementation Really Look Like?
Is this as simple as making the whole company “agile” from top-to-bottom? I don’t think so. At a simple level, I think of a complete organizational implementation of Agile like a “chess board” with different levels of management; and at each of those levels, there is a choice of either a highly Agile approach, a heavily plan-driven approach, or something in between as shown in the diagram below. In most companies, it is not as simple as just making the entire company “agile” from top-to-bottom.
Making the company’s business more nimble, adaptive, and dynamic is certainly a worthwhile objective, but not necessarily the only objective a company has to consider. Any company has to design their organizational and business management model around the business that the company is in and the primary value proposition that the company is striving to deliver to their customers. That frequently might require some compromises between a pure Agile approach from top-to-bottom and more of a plan-driven or hybrid approach at some levels. In most cases, it is not just as simple as making the whole company “agile” from top-to-bottom.
The Discipline of Market Leaders
One of my favorite books on this topic is “The Discipline of Market Leaders” by Treacy and Wierzema.1 It’s an older book, but it is a classic as far as I’m concerned and the fundamental ideas behind this book are just as valid today as the day it was published. The idea behind this book is that any company needs to optimize their business model around the primary value proporsition that they provide to their customers:
“…no company can succeed today by trying to be all things to all people. It must instead find the unique value that it alone can deliver to a chosen market… One point deserves emphasis: Choosing to pursue a value discipline is a central act that shapes every subsequent plan and decision a company makes, coloring the entire organization, from its competencies to its culture. The choice of value discipline, in effect, defines what a company does and therefore what it is…”The Discipline of Market Leaders by Treacy and Wierzema1
Treacy and Wierzema define three “value disciplines” that tend to define a company’s business and how it operates. These “value disciplines” are:
- Operational Excellence – The first of the three value disciplines is operational excellence. Companies that focus on operational excellence succeed or fail by offering products and services more efficiently than their competitors can offer them. Walmart is an example of this kind of company with its “no frills” approach to mass-market retailing.
- Product Leadership – The second of the three value disciplines is product leadership. Companies that focus on product leadership succeed or fail primarily by innovating products to meet market needs faster and better than their competitors. Intel is an example of a company whose primary focus is on product leadership. For these and other product leaders, competition is not about price; it’s about product performance.
- Customer Intimacy – The third of the three value disciplines is customer intimacy. Companies that focus on customer intimacy succeed or fail primarily by providing a high level of personalized service to their customers relative to other competitors. Ritz Carlton Hotels is an example of a company that excels at customer intimacy.
The idea of these value-disciplines is as follows:
- No company can be all things to all people – companies need to choose a primary value discipline to align their business and company culture with – For example,
- McDonalds is obviously focused on operational excellence as a primary value discipline. In that environment, the employees typically wear uniforms to work, following a defined process is very important, and creativity and innovation in how they cook the hamburgers is not encouraged
- Intel is very different – creativity and innovation is extremely important and employees may wear jeans and sweatshirts to work
- That doesn’t mean that you can completely neglect the other two value-disciplines. You can’t be deficient in the other two, but you need to pick one of these three value disciplines to really excel in. For example,
- McDonalds has an iPhone app that makes it easy for customers to order food and their front-counter employees are treated to treat their customers with courtesy and respect
- Even though Intel succeeds primarily on the basis of product innovation, it cannot neglect operational excellence because it has competition from other chip-makers who compete with them on price
It is relatively easy to implement Agile in a company whose primary value discipline is Product Leadership because there is a natural alignment between the goals of an Agile development process and the overall goals of the company in bringing innovative products to market quickly. There is less of a natural alignment between a company whose primary value discipline is focused on operational excellence. In that kind of company, there may be a portfolio of potential projects that all have the potential to contribute to the company’s operational excellence goal and it may not be obvious which of those projects provides the greatest contribution to the company’s overall business.
How Does This Work in Practice?
What Is a Systems Approach to Management?
This really requires what I call a “Systems Approach to Management”. That is, the ability to view the enire organization as a complete system and visualize how the various pieces fit together to make it successful in its desired area of business. When I published my first book in 2003 entitled “From Quality to Business Excellence“2, I included a simple model to illustrate how that might work:
The idea behind this model is that many businesses simply focus on managing their top-line results such as overall revenue and profitability. If something goes wrong in those results such as a drop in revenue or profitability, they’re typically reacting to financial results and they may have no idea of what may have caused the results to go wrong. By developing an understanding of the cause-and-effect relationships among the various factors that contribute to achieviing business results, a company can take a more proactive approach of managing the business at a deeper level, optimizing the overall design of the business around achieving those businesss results, and correcting performance issues before they may impact company financials.
Where Do Enterprise-level Frameworks Fit In?
As I’ve mentioned there are two enterprise-level frameworks that are most widely-used to help provide a solution to this problem – the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) originally created by Dean Leffingwell and Disciplined Agile by Scott Ambler and PMI®.
It’s interesting how these two frameworks have both evolved over the years. When both of these frameworks were first introduced some years ago, both were based on a fairly well-defined and structured approach to implementation. In the latest implementations; both of these frameworks seem to have realized that it is difficult, if not impossilble, to explicitly define an approach that works for all companies. Instead, both of them put an emphasis on understanding the principles behind the approach and using those principles to craft a unique approach that fits the business. You can’t just apply a “cookbook” approach to a complete enterprise to make it “agile” from top-to-bottom. It’s just not that simple.
What is a “Hyper Agile SDLC”?
Another further extension of the “hyper Agile” concept is the notion of a “Hyper Agile SDLC”3. That is based on the idea of “Citizen Developers” who are business users that don’t necessarily have a high-level of software development skills who are able to rapidly design and develop applications using “low code or no code” platforms. The idea is that by using these tools, ordinary business users (called “Citizen Developers”) can develop applications themselves without sophisticated development skills and thus eliminate a lot of the complexity of a typical software development SDLC. That’s a further extension of the “hyper Agile” idea. One can even imagine that in an ideal future world, there is no formal software development organization and the business users (or “Citizen Developers”) can rapidly develop applications themselves which further streamlines and accelerates how the overall business operates. That is a very noble goal and it may begin to come to fruition at some point in the future for simple applications; but as of now, the tools to support that approach or still at a very limited and primitive stage.
Overall Summary and Conclusions
The term “hyper agile” is being tossed around somewhat loosely:
- In the most common context, it implies a single, well-defined approach to convert an entire company’s business to “agile” from top-to-bottom
- In a further extension, a “hyper Agile SDLC” implies going even further to accelerate the entire development process by using “low code or no code” platforms to enable “Citizen developers” who are primarily business users to quickly develop business applications themselves without requiring a high level of development skills and using a very streamlined SDLC process to do it
I believe that there is a fair amount of “marketing hype” and “futuristic dreaming” in both of these connotations:
- It’s not that simple to make an entire company more “Agile” and the actual implementation requires careful consideration of the company’s business model as well as the primary value proposition that it is striving to deliver to its customers
- The idea of replacing a significant portion of the development effort with business users who are “Citizen Developers” to create a very streamlined “hyper Agile SDLC” is an interesting concept and it might be useful for creating prototype applications quickly; but in many cases, it just isn’t realistic yet for typical large application development projects
Check out the following related articles on “Enterprise-level Agile”:
- What is “Hyper Agile”?
- Improving Project Management Performance
- PMI Acquisition of Digital Agile Delivery (DAD)
- Scaling Agile and Scrum for Large, Complex Projects
- What is an Enterprise Agile Coach?
- Enterprise-level Product Backlog Organization
Resources for Agile Project Management Online Training.
- The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market, Treacy, Michael, and Wierzema, Fred, 1997. Perseus Books, Cambridge, MA)
- From Quality to Business Excellence – A Systems Approach to Management, Cobb, Charles, 2003, ASQ Quality Press
- “An Introduction to Hyper-Agile SDLC”, Project Management.com, https://www.projectmanagement.com/blog/blogPostingView.cfm?blogPostingID=67399&thisPageURL=/blog-post/67399/An-Introduction-to-Hyper-Agile-SDLC#=