Agile: transformation design approach or organisation blueprint?
We see many organisations adopting Agile Business Transformation solutions. While Agile business transformation focus on fast and flexible business digital transformation, the Agile approach also installs a production organisation: the collection of organisational arrangements that divides and links production tasks, including the information handling and decision-making tasks that are necessarily part thereof. But does the Agile approach create Good Quality Organisations, i.e. organisations that simultaneously are effective, efficient and create good quality of work life? And does it in the longer run?
Agile draws upon sociotechnical organisation design approaches
The work organisation implied by Agile approaches seem to inherit quite a few of organisation design approaches such as Socio-Technical Systems Design (STSD), and its related Quality of Work Life (Sweden) and Integral Organizational Renewal (e.g. [Ulbo de Sitter]) and Sociocracy (e.g. Gerard Endenburg) organisation design approaches. These approaches became known for their capacity to simultaneously perform well on Quality of Service (the rights products and services made first time right), Quality of Organisation (resource efficiency, innovation power, execution power) and Quality of Work Life (lower absenteeism, higher motivation and involvement, better employee health scores, better learning etc). There is also an abundance of empirical, rigorous academic research available on the performance of sociotechnically designed organisations.
Integral or partial approach?
However, Agile Business Transformation seem to only partially implement the gains of the above-mentioned organisation design approaches, namely especially those that focus on flexible, fast and focused organisational performance. Case studies on Agile Business Transformation have kept remarkably silent on their requirements and joint and simultaneous effectiveness and efficiency on other dimensions of organisational performance, such as quality of the output and quality of work life.
The sociotechnical approaches are all based on an explicitly cybernetic management approach that not only created flexible ‘whole task’ self-steering task units, but that also shields critical resources (people, machines) from becoming too scattered and cannibalised by competing requirements from different production flows to be effectively and efficiently deployed. The Agile model seems to reinstall — at least graphically — a matrix organisation which has not been known to be the structure that always installs good quality of organisation performance at the same time.
Evidence of good quality of organisation?
In view of the above, the Agile Business Transformation approach begs to specify how it implements a design for simultaneous good quality of organisation, good quality of service and goods and quality of work. Also, it is essential to show data on how its implementation handles the usual organisational problems such as competition for scarce resources, and preventing overburdened resources (machines, people) to become ineffective beyond their capacity.
Partial implementation of good concepts may not last
Some of the sociotechnical system design implementations have implemented concepts such as ‘self-steering teams’ were abandoned after several years, probably since production capacity was organised based on cybernetic principles, while management was not and was not comfortable with units exercising their autonomy to create agile results. What is different in Agile Business Transformation that these organisational challenges and problems are handled better and that quality of organisation and quality of work life can be held at high levels at that same time? Although Agile transformation for sure is a design approach, it is not clear what organisation and steering concepts it installs This is an open question for practitioners and academics to pick up and put valid evidence and data to it.
Show us the evidence!
It would be helpful to be pointed to rigorous research that puts numbers to the performance of agile business systems, and also whether these numbers hold after first implementation. Who takes on this challenge?
Any pointers to rigorous research and evidence on the lasting effects of Agile Business Transformation on all aspects of quality of organisation are welcome!