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3 important rules for sure-fire Agile success

Updated: May 3, 2020

Want to get to grips with agile, particularly business agility? Three important laws will get you thinking, then going. Without them, and the mindset that goes along with them, your agile will be…well…not very agile.


Business agility, collaboration and vulnerability. Well let’s start with business agility, and I want to just talk about Stephen Denning’s three laws. And the first one he talks about is the law of the customer. And I really like that idea, that simple idea of saying to a team “what is it that you’re doing today that’s going to make the life of your customer easier or better tomorrow?” Second law is the law of the network. An organisation that’s got a network of teams rather than that traditional hierarchy. And the third is the law of the small team. And if that small team is going to be successfully agile then of course collaboration is at the heart.

But how do you get that collaboration? I want to just introduce a neuroscience approach to it. Because what our brains are seeking the whole time, are two things. One is acceptance. The worst thing you can do to somebody is reject them or ignore them. And the second thing we’re looking for is some sort of social certainty. And that certainty translates into the following: the following question you’ll ask yourself which is “am I going to make myself vulnerable with my colleagues?” Well you’re certainly not going to do that if you’re going to be rejected.

The key thing is to actually analyse the kind of dialogue; the kind of enquiry; the kind of generative conversations you’re having with your colleagues, and there’s a lovely way to do it. And the first is to actually classify those dialogues, those enquires, those conversations as poor – “gosh they didn’t seem to like me, I certainly didn’t like them I don’t want to work with them again. I’m certainly not going to challenge anything; I’m certainly not going to make myself vulnerable”. The second is “meh, ho hum, yeah, well, it was okay I may have learnt something, but I don’t really want to go back and have another conversation or dialogue with them”. The third is when it’s a rich dialogue, a rich enquiry, either within a team or with just two people, where you come away thinking “hey that was really good. I really learnt something. That was interesting—I’ve never thought of that before. I feel quite safe, and you know what? I really want to work with that person again”.

And then you really hit the top when you get to the sweet spot. Those conversations, those dialogues, those enquiries, where you come away thinking “wow that was great and I felt really comfortable challenging anything. I felt really comfortable asking but this…is it really going to work? I felt really comfortable saying hang on a minute I think we should go right back to the beginning, don’t you? And challenge every assumption that we’ve made?” Maybe it’s actually saying “I think we should admit we’ve just failed”. And everybody saying “well I think you’re right…what are we going to do now?” those really sweet spot dialogues, conversations, enquiries.

So I think for real, good agile collaboration—in a small team or across a whole organisation—what we need to do is recognise the power of people making themselves vulnerable, of agile leaders making sure that their staff, their people, can feel safe doing it, so that you can end up with so many of those absolutely great, rich and sweet spot conversations.


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