Introducing Agile

... when hierarchy stays on board

“We need to be agile – so let’s call a consultant to find out what that is!” Over the last years, we have been helping big companies to create “agile islands” – because in most cases, their traditional structures won’t disappear overnight.

Finding constructive ways of living with the tension between these two poles is critical to the success of these projects. Most companies begin the journey by introducing some methods, e.g. scrum, design thinking, etc. That may be helpful – but if the overall culture won’t adapt to today’s fluid environments, you might get little output for lots of friction.

We think of Agile in big organizations as another twist in the development of the Patchwork Organization. Stefan coined this term in an article from 2012 and in 2016, further spelled it out in a fictional example, the 20org20 company. Today, most big organizations are a historically grown blend of several organizational models.

Rather than waiting for the one big new model to emerge for the 21st century, we have come to believe that there is a paradoxical strength in the Patchwork Organization: in their diversity, its distinctive parts do certain things better than they could within one unifying (but less adaptive) structure.

When you introduce agile mindset and methods in big organizations, you might be greeted with lot of enthusiasm, and many projects and initiatives will get created. The trickier part is to live and manage the rifts and fault lines between the new agile islands and the existing organization. As externals, we are often in a good position to identify and then reduce this tension.

Article “Patchwork Organization“ (German), from: Hernsteiner 1/2012
Article “Welcome to 20org20“ (German), from: Hernsteiner 1/2016