From coding to coaching, programming to project management, agility has become an increasingly valued attribute in the modern workplace and in some cases is even regarded as a necessity. Agility, however needs to be more than a methodology or a development framework. Agility is required from us in how we lead and develop our teams, how we communicate to our customers and stakeholders, how we react to market trends and uncertainty and how we manage our time and priorities. Whether we lead a team, manage a project, market a product or provide a service, todays economy demands that we incorporate some aspect of agility into what we do and how we do it.
There are a number of images that may come to mind when we think of agility. One thing that comes to my mind is a big cat. Perhaps a lioness engaged in a high speed chase on the African plain. Her agility is apparent in the dexterity required for the chase, in the balance that aids with the sudden changes of direction, the speed required to react once the pursuit has begun and the strength necessary to bring down the quarry and ensure survival of the pride.
The agile professional will do well to reflect the lessons of this example of agility. When we consider the balance of the lioness, even the most casual observer will notice how she uses her tail as a counter balance. As she veers left her tail swings right, as she negotiates uneven ground her tail is continually compensating for the change of weight distribution through her body. Here we must pause and ask ourselves. In our own desire for agility in our work and practice who or what is our counter balance? If we are big picture individuals do we have a detail guy that can help use apply the vision to the day to day? If we are those that are empowered by the buzz of having people around us all of the time, who is it that will challenge us to take time for quiet reflection on the wins and losses of the past year? If we thrive on busyness and doing all of the time, when do we take time to recharge our mind, rest our bodies and feed the soul? A counter balance will always aid our agility. It will keep us fresh for the next challenge, aid our perspective and provide us with the clarity we need in detail and overview.
It is difficult to be unimpressed by the level of focus displayed by the hunting feline. She has total clarity of vision, eyes fixed on the target so much so that it appears they are in sync as they twist and turn across the plain. Once again we reflect. The lesson for us here is focus. How well do we know our environment? How attuned are we to our target market, our customers desires or our teams needs? Agility come from awareness and awareness comes form our ability to observe, perceive and understand. The agile professional must be a student of their marketplace. To know the coming trends and innovations, to know what’s new and what has had its day. To know who the competition is and what they may do next. They also need to be in touch with the condition and mindset of their team. This means regular check ins with the team, to be present with them so that when a need arises we are reacting with the synchronicity of the lioness.
Of course what we do not see in the successful hunt of mother lion is the failures and challenges that have contributed to her success. We do not see the clumsiness of her early attempts or the many pursuits that ended in a face full of dust and an empty stomach. We have no idea of the hunger that drove her out of desperation to try things she previously never would have risked. We are ignorant of anxious urgency within that would insist on persistence so that even the smallest trophy could be won. No, we are unaware of the bitter failure and exhaustion that produced the experienced and skilful provider we see today. Some years ago I remarked to a local musician how his ability to improvise on a tune was impressive, but that it was even more remarkable at how quickly his band went with his spontaneity. I asked him what his secret was, to be so spontaneous yet so precise. With a glint in his eye he told me, “our apparent spontaneity only comes from hours of careful practise.” True agility is forged in the fire of failure and shaped by the hammer of determination on the anvil persistence.
One more thing I need to say. As I travel from organisations to organisation and speak to various teams in different industries and sectors, regardless of what part of the globe I am in, I hear a similar complaint when it comes to that which might frustrate our agility. The complaint is that of bottlenecks or check points, road blocks to success or the timely achievement of a key deliverable. Usually these road blocks are put in place by other functions. Sales teams delayed by the availability of marketing resources, R&D teams limited by budget constraints, productivity hindered by compliance. You get the picture I’m sure. Of course the natural reaction is to clear the blockage so that the process may be streamlined and the output continue uninterrupted.
It may well be the case that some of our red lights don’t need to be there at all, but I would urge caution before we simply push on with the process in the name of agility or seek to dismantle the roadblock before understanding why it’s there in the first place. G.K. Chesterton tells a story of two individuals that are faced with a fence across their path. One immediately wants to have it removed for he cannot see what purpose a fence across a road would serve. The other is not so enthusiastic for the removal of the fence. He asks his companion to first consider why the fence might have been placed there in the first place? If then, upon reflection he cannot establish a current use or reason for the fence then it may be possible to have it removed, but only after we know why it was there at all.
Agility should be prised as a value in todays workplace, but not at the expense of wisdom, insight and understanding. Not to the detriment of determination, persistence and the experience brought by existential learning.
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