What is Agile

What is Agile and why should you care?


As leaders and managers, it’s helpful to understand what agile is and how it can benefit your organisation. So what exactly is agile? It’s a way to focus on delivering value to customers through collaboration and flexibility, rather than relying on rigid processes and plans.

Explaining the Agile Onion

The AWA Agile Onion is the best way to understand agile. The larger the circle of the onion, the more powerful but less apparent it is….

“…as you move upward from the tools and processes – bearing in mind this is not a linear journey, but iterative in nature, we make progress from Transactional to Transformational.”

Mary Laniyan
Enterprise Agile Coach

Tools at the centre are easy to spot, such as big boards with post-its or Jira instances. However, they are ineffective on their own.

Practices include Scrum, Kanban, XP, Story Writing and Mapping, Prioritising, Roadmap Creation and more. These practices are easy to understand but difficult to implement and derive value from.

Tools & practices can be incredibly useful, but they must be understood in the context of the agile mindset.

“The practices emerge from the conversations that people have, the data they interpret, the lessons they have received, and context in which they work.
The status quo happens when the same practices keep emerging because the mindset has not changed.

When we take practices that emerged somewhere else with the right mindset and were successful there, and then try and teach those elsewhere or adopt them somewhere else, we have missed the process of emergence and generally the practices are not fit for purpose or context… and then they don’t work.

…the mindset shift must come first.”

Simon Powers

Principles are things like completing all work started in a sprint or producing working and useful products every two weeks. Having these principles enables the team and organisation to optimise around them and make sound decisions.

Values are even more critical and intangible. Trust is the first step for any high-performing, collaborative team.* If trust isn’t fostered through values like respect and courage to speak out, high performance will remain elusive.

Finally, Mindset is the most challenging to see, yet the most powerful. You can’t teach it directly, and some people have it naturally. Gaining an agile mindset requires coaching to unlearn layers of command and control, Project Management skills and Theory X (the assumption that people dislike work and are reluctant to take responsibility, so must therefore be coerced, controlled, and directed).

What is the Agile Mindset?

The agile mindset, according to Simon Powers, is defined by 3 beliefs, as follows…

1. The complexity belief

Many of the challenges we face are complex adaptive problems, meaning that by trying to solve these, we change the nature of the problem itself.

Also important for the complexity belief, an attribute of complex adaptive problems is that the end solution is not predictable at the outset.

An example of a complex adaptive challenge might be raising a child. This is because every child is different and requires someone to sense and respond according to the child’s unique needs.

2. The people belief

Individuals are both independent from and dependent on their teams and organisations.

Trust and self-organisation can arise, given the right environment (safety, respect, diversity and inclusion) and a motivating purpose. 

For this to happen, it is necessary to treat everyone with unconditional positive regard.

To enable the best outcome, leaders can take on a coaching role, often called ‘servant leadership’. One example of a servant leader is Susan Wojcicki, who was CEO of YouTube. Wojcicki created an open communication and collaboration culture, encouraging employees to think outside the box and take risks. Another example might be Steve Jobs, who created a culture of innovation and creativity within Apple through his willingness to experiment.

3. The proactive belief

Proactivity in the relentless pursuit of improvement. This belief is derived from and a consequence of the other two beliefs.

To enable the other beliefs to deliver success, there must be a proactive effort to collect feedback on what works AND what does not, both with the deliverable and the process which delivers it. You must improve the process you are using as well as the product.

Find out more about the 3 beliefs that define the agile mindset, along with detailed examples and diagrams, over at our sister company, AWA Global

Why should leaders care about agile?

This approach allows teams to respond more effectively to changing requirements and customer needs. It promotes continuous improvement and adaptation, which results in faster time to market and better customer satisfaction.

Agile also emphasises collaboration and communication between team members, stakeholders, and customers. Teams are encouraged to work together closely, share knowledge and expertise, and engage in open and honest communication. This approach fosters a culture of trust and transparency, which is essential for effective teamwork and successful project delivery.

Agile is an organisational mindset shift, a change in culture from one state to another. It’s not easy. It takes time, and the journey is incremental. However, the cultural shift resulting from the mindset change is fundamental and crucial to to drive innovation, increase customer satisfaction, and deliver better outcomes for your organisation.

*according to The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

Reasons NOT to use a Scaled Framework

5 Reasons NOT to use a Scaled Framework to Create a People-First Work Culture (and what to use instead)


Change is the only constant. And as the pace of change increases, employees may feel concern, anxiety, anger and resentment. These are legitimate and understandable emotions. Unfortunately, they do not make for a collaborative and productive team. The goal for many leaders is therefore to create a more resilient organisation, with innovative teams that are excited by change and employees who are doing their best work and thriving. Many leaders are turning to prescriptive scaled frameworks to achieve this goal. While these frameworks have a place, an off the shelf solution in complex adaptive environments, are largely best avoided.

Creating a people first work culture has become a priority for many companies, with good reason. There are many benefits of a people first culture. In this blog post, we’ll explore 5 reasons why a scaled framework might not be the best way to create a people-first work culture. Then we’ll suggest a better solution.

1. It can lead to a one-size-fits-all approach

Scaled frameworks are designed to be applied across an entire organisation, regardless of the department or team. While this might seem efficient, it can also lead to a one-size-fits-all approach that ignores the unique needs of each team or individual. In a people first work culture, it’s important to acknowledge and accommodate the specific needs and goals of each employee. A one-size-fits-all approach can make your employees feel undervalued and unsupported.

2. A scaled framework can stifle creativity and innovation

Scaled frameworks are often rigid and prescriptive. This leaves little room for creativity and innovation. In a people-first work culture, transformational leaders encourage employees to share their ideas and take risks. A rigid framework can discourage employees from thinking outside the box and trying new things, which can ultimately harm the company’s growth and success.

3. It can create a culture of compliance

Scaled frameworks can create a culture of compliance, where employees are more focused on following rules and guidelines than on achieving outcomes. This can lead to a lack of accountability and a decrease in motivation. This is because employees become more concerned with following procedures than with producing quality work. In a people-first work culture, leaders trust others to take ownership of their work and be held accountable for their results.

4. It can be slow to adapt to change

Scaled frameworks are often slow to adapt to change, as they require significant time and resources to implement. In a rapidly changing business environment, this can be a significant disadvantage. A people-first work culture should be agile and adaptable, able to quickly respond to changing circumstances and take advantage of new opportunities.

5. A scaled framework can limit employee engagement and satisfaction

Scaled frameworks can limit employee engagement and satisfaction by creating a sense of detachment from your company’s mission and values. In a true people-first work culture, employees feel connected to the company’s purpose and motivated to contribute to its success. A rigid framework can make employees feel like they are just cogs in a machine, rather than valued members of your team.

So, while scaled frameworks may seem like an easy way to create a people-first work culture, they are not without challenges. By limiting creativity and innovation, creating a culture of compliance, and limiting employee engagement and satisfaction, scaled frameworks can ultimately hinder a company’s growth and success.

So if scaled frameworks are not the answer, what is..?

What to use instead?

Instead of using a scaled framework, organisations should focus on creating a flexible, adaptable, and people-centric culture that values each employee’s unique contributions and strengths. We recommend using the Enterprise Change Pattern to do this. That’s because it’s completely flexible and can fit with any context and organisation. It’s a tried and tested approach for self-sustaining people first cultures, where leaders cultivate the conditions for teams to co-create innovative solutions, experiments and successful products.

In contrast to scaled frameworks, The Enterprise Change Pattern (ECP) actually increases ownership and engagement. It cultivates a culture of psychological safety, where learning and experimentation are encouraged and innovation thrives. With the ECP, everyone has their voice heard and diversity is valued. The Enterprise Change Pattern builds a self-sustained internal capability to quickly adapt to change. Consequently, this leads to happier customers, stakeholders and customers.

Why experiments matter

Why experiments matter (and are essential to your organisation’s future success)

approach, experiments

As a leader, you know that change is inevitable in the ever-evolving business landscape. To stay ahead of the competition, organisations must continuously innovate, experiment and adapt to changing market dynamics. Companies must be willing to adapt and evolve, constantly testing and iterating to stay ahead of the curve. This is why experiments matter. By conducting experiments, companies can explore new ideas, identify opportunities, and uncover areas for improvement. This allows them to stay nimble and responsive to changing market conditions, and to take advantage of emerging trends and technologies.
Experiments are essential to the future success of any organisation.

Why experiments matter

How to approach experiments

Firstly, experimentation is not just about trying out new ideas. It’s about validating (or invalidating!) assumptions and learning from failures. Embracing experimentation requires a shift in mindset and culture, moving away from traditional hierarchical structures towards a more people first culture.

Our recommended approach for making change in your organisation is the Enterprise Change Pattern. This tried and tested method involves experiment ‘change cycles’ with the following key steps:

– Start with now
– Define the experiment
– Make the change
– Measure the impact
– Repeat

Use this free canvas to start creating your experiments

At each stage, leaders must involve and engage their teams and communicate effectively. Everyone is involved and able to share their hidden knowledge. In this way, an organisation can make group decisions quickly.

By employing the Enterprise Change Pattern, with our help, you can ensure that experiments are well-designed, carefully executed, and rigorously evaluated.

Organisations that prioritise experimentation have been shown to have higher rates of innovation, better decision-making, and increased revenue growth. However, as a leader, you recognise that experimentation involves risk. Using the Enterprise Change Pattern helps to control that risk.

Building a culture of experimentation

Of course, it’s not just about the process of experimentation. A people-first culture is also essential to the success of any experiment. Leaders must empower their teams, encourage diversity of thought, and foster a safe environment for risk-taking and learning. Your team must feel safe to fail, knowing that mistakes are opportunities for learning and growth. And you must give them the resources and support they need to carry out their experiments effectively.

Transformational leaders must lead by example and create an environment that rewards curiosity, experimentation, and learning.

“To successfully innovate, companies need to make experimentation an integral part of everyday life—even when budgets are tight. That means creating an environment where employees’ curiosity is nurtured, data trumps opinion, anyone (not just people in R&D) can conduct or commission a test, all experiments are done ethically, and managers embrace a new model of leadership.”

Harvard Business Review

Ultimately, experiments are essential to your organisation’s future success. They are a powerful tool for driving innovation, improving performance, and staying ahead of the competition. By embracing the Enterprise Change Pattern and fostering a people-first organisation, leaders can create a culture of experimentation that drives innovation and growth. Remember, experimentation is not just about trying out new ideas. It’s also about validating assumptions and learning from failures.

We can help you to design and measure experiments using the Enterprise Change Pattern, especially if you would like to run multiple parallel experiments. Ask us how.