When wielded correctly, agile processes are an incredibly effective tool to build an efficient organization.

Agile can take many shapes and forms, but all agile processes should have 3 primary phases; planning, executing and reflecting. Each of these phases contains its own steps specific to a process. Planning is an ongoing process involving customers, product management, and feedback from engineers about what is viable. Executing is not just about doing a ‘thing’, it also requires sign-off, testing, iteration, deployment, or whatever steps required to call a task ‘done’. Reflecting requires everyone looking at the process and honestly answering some form of these 3 questions: What went well? What didn’t? What can we improve?

Each of these three steps is equally important to the agile process. However, organizations tend to only adopt the planning and executing aspects because it is easy to see how those practices translate into value for the business. These organizations fail to understand that agile begins as an inefficient and painful process for developers. The benefit of agile is that the team is working to improve this shared process each month, so every month your process of budgeting and executing work gets more efficient. What is more, a key tenant of agile is to listen to the people who are closest to the problems. Retrospectives allow a place for people to at worst voice their frustrations and at best find solutions to those problems with their peers. Ignored over time, those frustrations grow into reasons people take their talents elsewhere.

Neglecting the opportunity to reflect on your agile cycles robs your business of information about inefficiencies and pain points that might be hiding behind a few stoic individuals herculean efforts. Identifying those pain points is important to maintaining a positive working environment, and most companies don’t realize how valuable those individuals are shouldering burdens are until they leave.

Without planning there is no direction as far as what to execute and nothing to reflect upon. Without execution, expect painful retrospectives and short planning periods. Without retrospectives, future planning becomes less efficient over time instead of more efficient and execution can be more painful, buggy, and wasteful than it needs to be.

Lean and agile done right is uncomfortable by design. It’s far too easy to implement a half-baked version of agile, see marginal improvements and pat oneself on the back for a job well done. Leadership might even view this as a success if they now have more visibility into what exactly was planned or executed. These processes lose steam over time if you are not tweaking it based on feedback from people who are moving the widgets from planned to complete. Agile is uncomfortable because each person in a process is expected to ask hard questions of themselves and of the team, knowing that everyone has the same goal in mind of eliminating waste for the company. The outcome of these retrospective meetings is the primary value-add from agile processes, planning and execution data are just inputs.

When wielded correctly agile can be an incredible tool to transform an organization from a waste-filled environment to a lean one, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Incorrectly applied, agile can spread dissent unless it feels like a collaborative process.