The Self-Optimizing Agile Organization

Over the past few days, I attended a “brainstorming think-tank” session at the University of Surrey, hosted by my friend “The Professor”.

One of the areas of discussion was “the agile organization”, i.e. what does a truly agile organization, that is, an organization that is not only “doing agile”, but fully “being” agile, all over the scale, and within all functional areas, look like.

Most organization today, claiming being agile are in fact far from truly agile, the most common pattern being that agility is only applied at the the “leaf” level, i.e. only within the development teams, but the rest of the organization, e.g administration, sales, HR, internal support, management etc operate in very traditional manner, far from agility.

One idea that materialized during the discussions was that we could perhaps benefit from an analogy between (agile) organizations and intelligent networks: Intelligent networks have a number of characteristics that intuitively have some appeal in the modern agile socio-organizational context, in particular:

  • autonomy
  • self-adapting
  • self-governance
  • self-organization
  • self-configuration
  • self-optimization
  • self-direction
  • self-protection
  • self-healing

The key concept here is autonomy, i.e. the ability of an intelligent network to perform its duties and meet its objectives without detailed centralized governance, i.e without excessive management overhead.

In other words, intelligent networks are exactly that, adaptive and dynamic networks of communication, i.e. the opposite of the traditional organizational structure, that is, the static and slow moving command & control hierarchy. 

Applying the “intelligent network” thinking to a systems and software development organization, we can almost immediately notice that holistic agile organizational structures and practices such as:

  • coaching and facilitating leadership instead of controlling management
  • developer empowerment
  • daily scrums
  • cross functional teams
  • communities of practice
  • decentralized decision making
  • interactive face-to-face communication and removal of functional silos

have much in common with the principles of intelligent networks.

One key area for enabling socio-economic organizations, such as systems- and software development companies,  to behave like the (technical) intelligent networks, to become self-optimizing, has to do with the role of metrics and measurements.  I will return to this topic in a later post.


About swdevperestroika

High tech industry veteran, avid hacker reluctantly transformed to mgmt consultant.
This entry was posted in Agile, Business, Complex Systems, development, Leadership, Management, Organization, Systems and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Self-Optimizing Agile Organization

  1. Svante Lidman says:

    Hi Tommy!

    I have done a few conference presentations on this subject. I started out exploring the subject along very similar lines as you outline above. However, in the end I found this technical approach less useful than a psychological one. If you are interested you find the conference presentations here:



  2. Svante Lidman says:

    Absolutely. Home sick right now but hopefully not for too long. Not sure what my schedule looks like next week but I will get back to you separately as soon as I know.

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