Stephen Denning on Business Agility

Stephen Denning on Business Agility

Stephen Denning is a former director of the World Bank, renowned speaker and author (his most recent book, The Age of Agile, has 4.5 stars on Amazon). As a keynote speaker at IIL’s Leadership & Innovation 2019 Online Conference, he gave a fascinating take on how to adopt an Agile Mindset through what he calls the “Three Laws of Business Agility.”

We received so many great questions during the 15-minute Q&A that we didn’t have time to get to them all. Thank you to Stephen for taking the time to answer each and every question. This blog post is a compilation of some of our favorites.

The recording of Stephen’s keynote, and all other speaker presentations, are available to watch on demand through June 9. Log in or register here.

To implement the Agile mindset seems to require change in processes etc. How to overcome the “fear of change”?

In general, the fear of change is fear of being changed, not change itself. If the change is good, and well communicated, and introduced in an inspiring way, change isn’t difficult. Most people want to make things better.

What is your advice for people/organizations that are reluctant to share knowledge?

In general, it’s an issue of distrust, which must be solved at an institutional level.

Can you elaborate more about customer focus vs. customer obsession? What should be the goal for organization: focus or obsession? 

There was much talk of customer focus in the 20th Century but it was mainly talk. The customer’s needs were secondary to the firm’s. Obsession means putting the customer as the real #1.

Please explain the concept of network team in more detail? Are these teams able to function independently as well as a together if need be? 

Yes. They must be able to do both.

Agile is necessary, but not sufficient: what would be, if to choose, one key ingredient besides Agile, to change the culture of the organization into a human-centered one?

Leadership storytelling is an important change tool. Human values like honesty and integrity are obviously also important. Being a good citizen must also come into the picture.

Do you know if there is a relation between human-centered organizations and revenue? 

You can certainly go broke focusing only on being human-centered. What is now possible though is to be both profitable and human-centered.

How do mid to senior-level managers get the agile buy-in from the top if it is not there?

They need to become leaders with their own inner compass and values.

Construction comes to mind as another field to apply agile. Not too much word on the success of this yet. 

I know of one construction firm that is on an Agile journey. Agile will happen in every sector.

Given cultural differences, is Agile as effective in countries where perhaps the customer is not the center of focus?

Agile is an inexorable global movement that will eventually reach all countries. You can embrace it now or embrace it later. It’s when, not whether.

What is the main characteristic of “fake” agile?

It’s parroting the words of agile without the belief, the values or the actions.

Is Agile applicable for small teams working online from different places?

Separating teams physically has obvious problems, but it has been done. Co-location is much easier.

Since leaving the World Bank, have they managed to stay agile?

They were not Agile in my day. They were very bureaucratic. There is a movement now to introduce Agile, and it has quite a bit of energy, but it is still early days. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

How would you handle the reliability-assurance of knowledge in an era of fake news and artificial intelligence?

Honesty, intellectual rigor, examining the evidence, doing the analysis—none of this is new. The Ancient Greeks spelled it out very clearly. It’s just with technology, there’s more of it to deal with.

Is storytelling like lessons learned?

Storytelling is a vast subject. You can find out more in my book, The Leader’s Guide To Storytelling.

I am not a natural storyteller. But I have heard twice today that is perhaps a skill I should develop. Any tips?

You can find out more in my book, The Leader’s Guide To Storytelling. Or for a more lighthearted look at it, my book, Squirrel Inc.

You mention agile is NOT a methodology but there are a lot of institutes giving certification training. How do you measure agile “mindset” in people and in organizations?

(This question was answered during the live Q&A.) Well, mindset is in one sense an ethereal thing and it can be hard to grasp but at the same time when you see it you can recognize it. When you see managers who are focused on enabling their staff to do things rather than controlling them, when there is trust in organizations vs. distrust. And you can sense immediately there is a difference; a different way of thinking and feeling and acting in the workplace. The measurement is more on the consequence or the result of the mindset and you see that in the way the teams flourish and the benefits for customers and the way the organization flourishes. It is one of the more difficult aspects of the whole transition is for people to realize that it is a mindset and to understand the elements of the mindset and to learn to embrace them and live them. It becomes second nature to you.

Because of the popularity of Stephen’s keynote, it will also be featured at our upcoming Agile & Scrum Online Conference. Learn more and see the speaker lineup here.