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The 2009 Agility Awards

This is just my way of recognizing the organizations that I believe have most contributed to increasing the agility of their companies, their industries, or the global economy. I judge things from my own quirky perspective, attempting to distinguish short-term, narrow project changes from longer-term, more impactful, structural changes.  Let’s go to the envelopes:


  1. IBM. For the most part, IBM has an exceptionally broad and insightful approach to agility. This includes favorable comments within the agile community about their products (one agile site called IBM Rational’s collaborative tools the equivalent of steroids in baseball); using agile development practices such as mashups and the Innovation Jam in its own strategy creation and innovation as well as product development; attempts to redefine “agile”; and the fostering of the smart grid. Negatives include a too-narrow definition of agile that does not include proactive anticipation of opportunities and system limits, and a legacy software set that is still too complex. Nevertheless, compared to most companies, IBM “gets it.”
  2. The Agile Alliance. While the alliance unfortunately focuses primarily on agile software development, within that sphere it continues to be the pre-eminent meeting place and cheerleader for those “bottom up” individuals who have driven agile from 1-3 person software projects to thousands-of-people designing and developing software-infused products. One concern: their recent consideration of the idea that lean manufacturing and agile development are completely complementary, when lean manufacturing necessarily assumes a pre-determined result for either product development or product manufacture, and focuses on costs rather than customer satisfaction.
  3. The Beyond Budgeting Roundtable.  Never heard of it? It started with Swedish companies claiming that budgets could be replaced, and should be, because they constrained the agility of the resulting organization. Although this is not a mainstream concept, enough companies have adopted this approach to show that it can work. Consider this an “award in progress.”


Looking at these, I am saddened that the list isn’t larger. In fairness, a lot of very agile small organizations exist, and Indian companies such as Wipro are in the forefront of experimenting with agile software development. However, even those large companies that give lip service to agility and apply it in their software and product development would admit that the overall structure of the company in which these concepts are applied is still too inflexible and too cost-driven, and the structural changes have not yet been fully cemented into the organization for the long term. Wait ‘til next year …


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Wayne Kernochan