Agility as a Driver for Equality

January 22, 2019
4 minute read

Agility has simply become a “buzzword” for some organizations, while for others it continues to represent opportunity for happier customers and employees. On that note, one facet of Agility that bears further attention is the intent of Agile to provide equality in a work environment.

The guiding principles of the Agile Manifesto provide evidence to this intent. Statements such as “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project” do not indicate an expectation of structure between business and developers when working on a solution. The guidance here (and in the supporting literature) is that Agile teams should consist of all the people that are required, from concept to cash. This suggests a clear partnership and common commitment towards achieving a goal, rather than a hierarchy and reporting structure.

Similarly, the guiding principle “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation” also indicates there needs to be a symbiotic relationship with frequent interaction between all people involved in building the solution. Again the indication is that there needs to be a partnership, and there is no suggestion of a need for hierarchy between those people doing the work and others overseeing their contributions.

A third guiding principle “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely” suggests everyone involved should be working at a sustainable pace, and there should be no overburdening. This concept relates to the thought that people should be provided with autonomy and purpose, be self-organizing, and provided with the support they require to get the job done over the long term. The traditional business tendency of a hierarchical structure to impose directives and potential overburdening in the name of increasing delivery and throughput should be avoided.

An even more explicit example of this concept is seen in a fourth guiding principle “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done”, which clearly suggests the need to support the team and empower them rather than command and control them. Again, the intent suggests equality and autonomy, not dominance and structure.

Indeed, there are many overarching examples of how the Agile mindset is leveraged to teach and coach teams to be fair and equal, and one does not need to look far beyond these core guiding principles. For example, the concept of “no heroes and no scapegoats” comes to mind, where an entire team (and not an individual) accepts responsibility to collectively deliver a solution. Another is that there is a critical need for leadership of Agile teams to be frequently engaged in the delivery as servant leaders. In this regard, simply providing a safe, nurturing environment to build, learn and deliver from, specifically one that shares in the successes and challenges rather than seeking to lay blame, is yet another example of suggesting a better balance of equality in the work environment.

Many of our clients come to us initially seeking training or coaching advice on how to apply Agile practices. It often becomes clear very quickly that there is a need for a far deeper conversation and understanding about the organizational culture, and whether it is aligned with providing equality to their staff. At BERTEIG these conversations are seen as the early turning point indicators when a company goes from simply wanting to to “do” Agile to wanting to “be” Agile.

For a similar discussion, please see the following blog article: “Seeking Patterns Between Human Rights and Agility”, (originally posted January 22, 2018)

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Berteig Consulting

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Bruce Power
Capital One
Equitable Life of Canada
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