Vision 2020: Predictions for Agile Organizations
Growing up in Tijuana, I often came across “zonkeys” in the streets. Painted to look like zebras, these donkeys served as beasts of burden for tourists who came to Tijuana in search of “Old Mexico.” Why donkeys painted like zebras? Tourists wanted pictures of themselves riding a local donkey, but the white donkeys would get washed out in the black and white images, so photographers painted black stripes on them to create contrast. An entire cottage industry rose up with hundreds of zonkeys roaming the streets, and they became synonymous with Tijuana tourism. We even named a local basketball team after them. Flash forward a few decades, and the zonkeys have all but disappeared. Demand shifted away from paid photo ops, while sentiments towards animals changed and the Tijuana tourism industry no longer needed the zonkeys.
Nobody wants to be the last zonkey wandering the Tijuana streets. Having watched their rise and fall, I learned to get ahead of shifts that leave behind not only cottage industries but major ones as well. As we move into a new decade, it’s become painfully apparent how reliant organizations are on outdated modes of work. Though we’re in the middle of a digital revolution, where technology and software development define the competitive edge of a business, our ways of working more closely resemble practices from a bygone era. The agile methodology of working—which emphasizes collaboration, time to market, cross-functionality and a focus on the customer—better reflects the problems that need to be solved by organizations in the 21st century.
I like to think of industrial revolution-era work methods and structures as zonkeys. They may have served a purpose at one point, becoming a part of our cultural heritage, but their value has all but disappeared. To remain competitive over the next decade, organizations will need to look to the future, not the past, for answers. By reinventing how your employees work, you’ll stay relevant to your customers and reinvigorate the employee experience. I’ve put together five predictions below for next decade trends that will define the workplace.
Current structures within many IT organizations are built on top of hierarchical components with an architecture that promotes a division of labor. They were built that way to support a command–and–control mindset in an effort to mitigate risk. Like an assembly line, where individuals focused on assembling parts of the end-product, this traditional structure worked when the end-product and its parts were static. The same repetitive process could be performed again and again with little to no change, and people could be swapped out like parts. The worker was easily replaceable, but it created silos of knowledge and experience.
Within the next ten years, companies will realign to a business-value structure. The rapid adoption of microservices architecture with an emphasis on design patterns around business capabilities that can be plugged into and fluidly reshaped, rather than a top-down, immovable foundation, will alter the landscape of software development. Teams will be formed around business outcomes regardless of which component is involved. This will bring together business and technology as one accountable entity for the delivery of value as a whole, not in parts.
Rise of organizational adaptiveness
The need to collaborate across the organization and innovate from all directions, including bottom-up, means business-driven capabilities can’t just be assigned to the IT team. The opportunity to create business value across the organization will have a positive effect on how people adapt to change as a whole and build a culture around learning. This includes marketing, sales, human resources, finance, and virtually all aspects of business. Learning cycles don’t stop at the cubicle walls and working in tandem across traditional department boundaries will provide organizations with powerful differentiators in their customer–centric solutions.
Agile will become about the customer
Agile, itself, will need to be rebranded. Negative connotations like “anarchy,” “by–the–book thinking,” “purist approach” and other non–endearing terms are turning off potential advocates before they even gain exposure. Organizations will start to look at other ways to describe initiatives and efforts to optimize processes, lean thinking and continuous feedback to differentiate themselves from “fake agile.”
Becoming an agile organization will no longer be an objective. Instead, organizations will focus on achieving results by adapting and learning without labeling that effort. Leading technology companies like Amazon and Microsoft are customer obsessed. They’re hyper-focused on getting the right product, the right way, quickly to their customers without labeling the methodology as “agile.” At the end of the day, customer value is what companies will be measured on regardless of what framework you use to get the product out the door. Learning organizations will adapt quickly, and processes will evolve to accommodate just–in–time value to customers by eliminating waste, politics and bureaucracy from their workflows.
Separation anxiety in organizations
We can’t talk about all these cultural changes in agile organizations without addressing the friction that comes with it. As companies become more customer–centric, employees will have to deal with the fall out of constant change. Organizations will need to develop coping mechanisms to process the anxiety of separating themselves from old ways of working. This means they’ll become more psychologically in tune with the effects of change.
The rapid response to shifting customer expectations will leave a sense of the ground perpetually moving under people’s feet. Fear of the unknown will be a constant and present feeling. Markets will grow even more competitive as customers accelerate new product demand. The aggressive pace will unnerve even the best of us. Nevertheless, implementing built-in coping methods to help employees adapt to change will help reduce general anxiety.
Organizations will be more effective in distributed teams
To deliver software at the speed of customer expectations, distributed teams will become more commonplace. Struggles with differences in time zones, location, suppliers and geography will result in the advancement of collaboration tools and changes in organizational structure to support these distributed teams. Technology, such as VR collaboration tools, virtual meeting rooms and whiteboards, and other digital workspaces will further enable distributed teams. Agile organizations will have to be restructured to accommodate these new ways of working, and to see the benefit of being organized around value, regardless of geographical location.
Bringing it all together
I can say with absolute certainty that in the next decade the zonkeys of Tijuana will cease to exist. A similar change will occur with the older, Industrial Revolution-style of work. Customer demand and market relevance will continue to be the fundamental triggers for change, but the speed at which that change occurs will demand organizations to restructure and reinvent how they think about work. Having a well–oiled change engine that can allow for flexibility and adaptiveness to respond to market demand will be the key to the success and survival of organizations. With over 95% of companies developing software, working like a zonkey will no longer get you to where you need to be.
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