In this week’s interview, we talk with Evan Leybourn, author of Directing the Agile Organisation, about Agile management and the how failure can be a good thing.
ITGP: Welcome to the interview Evan – thanks for your time today. Most people hear Agile and think of software development. So I suppose the first, most obvious question to ask what makes Agile a successful methodology for general management?
EL: Beyond the marketing and buzzwords, Agile is primarily a means to leverage change when the alternative is to restrict it. Having long since left my software development roots to build and run companies, it was a short step to realising that change is an implicit, and important, part of business. Understanding this was the ‘a-ha’ moment for me that drove the creation of Agile Business Management, and thus the book, Directing the Agile Organisation. Agile had solved this problem for software development; it could solve it for business development.
ITGP: So you took the ideas of Agile software development and moulded them into something that could be used by business managers?
EL: Exactly. Directing the Agile Organisationis my approach for building adaptive and agile companies. It takes business leaders on a journey and helps them become an agile leader, to integrate their customers into their work cycles, to structure an agile organisation and to adopt incremental work practices.
ITGP: Did you discover anything about yourself while writing your book?
EL: I discovered that I’m not very good at naming books. The original name for Directing the Agile Organisation: A Lean Approach to Business Management was “Agile Corporate Governance”. I’m sure you’ll admit that the new name is much better.
ITGP: I do agree! Naming a book requires a certain amount of objectivity that can be difficult for anyone closely involved with the project. So, good job I think!
ITGP: As an author you’re clearly keen to share your knowledge and experience, so what advice do you have for those just starting out in your field?
EL: Learn to fail. Just that, learn to fail.
When handled properly, failure is the single best learning experience you can ever have. Do not be afraid to experiment with new ideas, but ensure that you can move on if they don’t work out as expected. Too many organisations continue to invest well past the point of ROI/compound failure, because they are unable to recognise when an approach has failed.
This is one of the major points in my book. Putting your business, or project, in a position where you can experiment with opportunities – as in the scientific method of: hypothesis, testing, analysis, repeat, and fail quickly, with minimal cost, if you are wrong.
ITGP: What would you say is the favourite part of what you do?
EL: I spend a lot of time mentoring young companies on agile business management and corporate governance strategies. I love the energy and enthusiasm in the start-up community; the willingness to try something new. These are companies that understand that innovation is critical to success, even when business is going well. Especially when business is going well.
As organisations hire the 100th or 1,000th employee it becomes harder to maintain this culture, but that’s the real challenge that I love.
ITGP: Without giving away any secrets, can you say what are you working on now?
EL: I’m currently working on my next book, “Aesop’s Incorporated”, a series of business fables for the modern economy. These have been a lot of fun to write; recasting characters, such as the Lion, the Mouse, the Hare and the Tortoise, as corporations in competition with one another.
I’m also working with a couple of very interesting start-ups. These small companies are looking to change the way the world works; from education to investment to the way we manage our careers. Expect to hear more about these in the coming months.
ITGP: Sounds intriguing! I look forward to finding out more soon. But that, I’m afraid, is all we have time for today. Thanks very much for talking to us.
Evan’s book, Directing the Agile Organisation: A Lean Approach to Business Management is available from the IT Governance website, and all good booksellers.