The Pursuit of True Agility

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Shared terms in how a team operates include:

  • Formulation—How much upfront planning does the team do or do team members bypass planning altogether and just jump in and start improvising?
    Rules—Is there a lot of process involved in regular tasks, or is the execution fast and loose?
  • Communication—How much do team members interact with each other and with their audience? Do they keep tabs on any competitors or enemies?
  • Rhythm—Although musicians in an ensemble don’t always play the same rhythms simultaneously, they must synchronize at checkpoints and align within a common tempo and pulse. Every activity has a structure of checkpoints and some kind of heartbeat. Are these things well defined?
  • Health—Every organization and every project has a sense of health. Sickness is neither alluring nor conducive to high performance.

The Path to True Agility

While scaling (adding more people) and proficiency (employing better people) are typically pursued to gain productivity, agility is achieved through diverse team composition, decentralized leadership, a willingness to always put the team before the individual, improvisational skill, just enough rules to afford autonomy while avoiding chaos, transparent actions and openness to feedback, strong rhythms, and a desire to maintain organizational and project health.

Examples of true agility can be found in many domains. They’re worth studying in order to compete in today’s chaotic, confusing, and constantly changing world.

About the Author
With twenty-three years in consulting, research and development, finance, and intellectual property, Adrian Cho helps teams deliver innovative solutions on time. As the development manager for IBM's Collaborative Lifecycle Management project, he manages the global development of multiple products. As a jazz musician, bandleader, and conductor, he has been described by press as "a cool guide to hot jazz" and "a musical missionary." His book, "The Jazz Process: Collaboration, Innovation and Agility," has been endorsed by a diverse collection of thought leaders while reviewers have praised the book as "a deep exploration of collaborative know-how" and "a concept of leadership and teamwork that's well suited for the Google-age workplace." Mr. Cho was a recent keynote speaker at the Agile Development Practices Conference in Orlando, Florida.

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