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Agile organizing comprises the models, designs, and practices that enable more adaptive management structures based on an increased decentralization of decision making and organizational alignment.


“Agile”, it seems, has seen better days when it comes to the hype associated with the term.

A leading German newspaper recently declared it one of the worst words of the year (“Unwort des Jahres”).

A recent post in Stefan Wolpers’ “Food for Agile Thought” newsletter wondered if we’ve reached “peak agile” based on the proliferation and application of the terminology.

And, based on his own efforts to come to grips with the term, Stanford’s Bob Sutton once declared in a tweet that he agreed with agile principles and got the term when it focused on software, but now he’s confused since “agile” has become “a huge tent with varied jargon monoxide”.

Safe to say that such observations are not mere outliers.

So, if your aim is being seen, read, and heard only through the most fresh and timely jargon, you should probably stop using the term, or even actively dismiss “agile” to capitalize on its demise.


The meaning, and the importance, of agile organizing

However, at Management Kits, we continue to speak of “agile organizing” as an umbrella label for our work and resources on innovative forms of organizing.

We’ve previously discussed that there are some good reasons why new forms of organizing and digitalization go hand in hand.

And we believe the principles laid out in the agile manifesto, and the spirit that carried the term to such prominence, have a wider significance than its originally intended application to software development.

For us, agile organizing comprises novel approaches to organization design and management structures that are more adaptable and flexible than classical organizational structures, and that are (partly) built on self-management of teams and organizational units.

Note that the issues that need to be addressed in order to define and practice such new forms of organizing at scale are manifold. They go far beyond the initial scope of the agile manifesto and project management in general.

For example:

  • how do you design for collective and collaborative leadership in teams (again, beyond product development) and retain crucial leadership functions in accordance with principles of self-management?

  • How do you organize a strategy process to align semi-autonomous units to a joint purpose and goals?

  • What do career paths and compensation models look like in an organization that is increasingly self-managed (which implies the absence of a predefined pyramid representing the opportunity to ascend)?

There are quite a number of organization models and cases dealing with such questions and most of them cite increased agility as one of the goals, even if the terminology is not central to their arguments.

Note also that not every one of the (exemplary) organization design challenges cited above is best described as a question of “agility”. Nor do those challenges – and others discussed more comprehensively in another blog post – form one big, interdependent complex.

For instance, you can work on collaborative leadership questions without necessarily simultaneously addressing the career path question. That means that other terminologies will come to the fore to grapple with specific issues or designs.

So, for the time being, “agile” remains our term of choice, a loose description denoting a field of questions, as well as designs and practices that represent answers to those questions. Check out the Agile Organizing Kit to learn more.


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