Home Articles Characteristics of an Agile Organization – Are you doing Agile or being Agile?

Characteristics of an Agile Organization – Are you doing Agile or being Agile?

As the world around us is full of uncertainty and volatility, and organizations needs to be able to adapt and respond to change or the end is in sight.

Agile is designed to help organizations respond and thrive in complex environments where change is acknowledged as the new norm. Adopting Agile can reduce many risks organizations are facing. It will reduce the risk of not getting new products to market in time, reduce the risk of not creating a product that clients value and will reduce the risk of not being able to adapt to changing market conditions and pressures.

Most people think of Agile as a process or a method, when in facts it’s neither. Agile is an umbrella term for a collection of frameworks. In this context a framework provides a high-level view of what needs to be done and allows organizations to adapt exactly how they best work in their specific context. By using one of these frameworks such as Scrum, the organization is ‘Doing Agile’, and have adopted a way of working that will help them improve WHAT they do and HOW they do it.

Being Agile, not just Doing Agile

To create business agility an organization needs to not just be ‘Doing Agile’ but to ‘Be Agile’. It’s about thinking differently and adopting an Agile mindset, and not just blindly following a new work process or adopting new set of tools. By creating a culture that embeds the Agile values and principles outlined in the ‘Agile Manifesto’ an organization will come to understand fully what it means to ‘Be Agile’. As well as living the 4 values and 12 principles of Agile, there should be three characteristics that will help organizations to ‘be’ more Agile. they are feedback loops, maximizing value and always improving.

1. Feedback loops and responding to change

In Agile, we accept that the initial plan will need to change, at its best the initial plan is only going to be partially correct. An Agile organization acknowledges this and must let go of the comfort of having thousand of detailed requirements gathered upfront and signed off by many committees, and to instead adopt the concept of a dynamic backlog of requirements that evolves as we learn more about the solution, environment, and what customers value.

The way we learn in Agile is by working in iterations. These are called Sprints in Scrum. The secret is to break the work down into smaller chunks, such that during the timebox something ‘complete’ is created that we can get feedback about from customers, both internal and external to the organization.

As well as creating products and projects using short feedback loops, it can reduce the decision making and information sharing time lags. Communicating and knowledge sharing in large organizations is becoming more and more complicated so that Agile organizations adopt short and regular meetings to ensure that impediments and important decisions don’t have to wait until the next monthly committee meeting to get it solved. Teams have daily standup, and executives attend similar short sessions 2 or 3 times a week to help with escalations and decisions. These feedback loops allow information and decisions to flow up and down an organization rapidly.

Other examples of feedback loops are found in the creation of low-definition prototypes. When the idea of the Dropbox concept was born, they just created a short video that was a mock-up of how the technology would work. They hadn’t yet invented how to make it work, but when 70,000 people liked the video they knew it was worth the investment! Low-definition prototypes allow us to get valuable feedback from clients quickly and at low cost.

2. Maximizing Value

Agile organizations focus on maximizing value. It’s no longer just about people being busy, efficient, and productive, but creating genuine value for customers. What’s the point of creating number of new features for your website or app but no-one is using them? What matters is the ‘Value’ generated for customers and not the quantity of ‘Output’ that your teams produce.

One of the ways to maximize value is to launch a simple version of the product to customers and to learn what they value. This is often referred to as a minimum viable product or MVP. Unlike, the traditional way would be to create a detailed plan and engage customers in focus groups. While, the Agile way is to get the real product into the hands of real customers as soon as possible to understand what they like and what they don’t like.

Releasing value early and often is a key characteristic of Agile organizations, as we understand what customers value, we can do more of that, and less of things they didn’t value. The product evolves over time in an iterative way. Think about Netflix and how its model has evolved from mailing out DVDs to streaming and producing movies and TV series, and how Dyson have released over thousands versions of their vacuum cleaner to find those features that customers really value and love.

One of the other ways to maximize value is to introduce techniques that help teams focus on the most important work first. Agile teams relentlessly prioritize the most valuable work using the concept of the Backlog, and then relentlessly focus to deliver that work to customers as quickly as they can within the Sprint. Techniques like MoSCoW or Kano prioritization, using visual management boards to manage the flow of work, and limiting work in progress (WIP) are some ways we can maximize value.

3. Always Improving

Dedicating time to reflect, learn and improve is something that an Agile organization will practice. At the end of every Sprint cycle, teams reflect on how they worked together and decide on some actions that will help them improve an element of teamwork, processes, or technology. This creates a culture of continuous improvement and leads to faster delivery of value to customers and creates more engaged and happier teams! One of the unexpected benefits of working in Agile is that team members feel more autonomous through self-management, as individuals grow their mastery in how they deliver projects while feeling highly connected to the product or project’s purpose.

Another element of ‘always improving’ is that Agile organizations give people time to learn. Concepts like teams aim to create a functioning product by the end of the event and spend 20% of working time exploring or working on projects that show no promise of paying immediate dividends but that might reveal big opportunities down the road empower people to be more creative and innovative.


In today’s complex and volatile world, organizations need to be able to adapt and respond to change more easily and quickly. Adopting Agile ways of working is a good start, but by truly ‘Being’ Agile, thinking differently as well as working differently. To be Agile, an organization needs to create internal and external feedback loops, maximize value for customers and to always be looking to maximize opportunities to improve and learn.

If you would like to learn more on both being Agile and doing Agile, come along to our Certified training courses.