October 26

What you could learn from ‘The Age of Agile’ by Steve Denning (2018, 264 pages)

How have companies like Google, Spotify, Netflix and Facebook managed to continue to innovate despite their global scale?

Steve Denning in his book ‘The Age of Agile’ argues that the competitive advantage of these companies is the ability to get teams focusing on bringing value to the customer and the priority of flow through the system (much as Toyota did for manufacturing in the latter part of the 20th century).


Steve argues that companies are now experiencing many dysfunctions due to their size:

  • Dis-economies of scale, where it is difficult to get anything done
  • Managers won’t change if their paycheck depends on them not changing
  • Maximising shareholder profits, creating short-term focus
  • Leadership is about control and power, not support and enablement


Steve suggests that any organisation can use the three core characteristics of agile to overcome these dysfunctions:

  1. The law of small teams.  As Dunbar highlight, there is a natural size to teams, don’t fight it.
  2. The law of the customer.  Find your target customer and build for them.  Work our what they are trying to do and help them do it – your product should turn them into a superhero
  3. The law of the network.  The larger the network, the more powerful it is but also the more difficult to manage.


Steve also suggests that leadership and managing process are key to success.

Better leadership.  Leaders need to be gardeners and not chess players.  Gone are the days of multi-year planning.  Now leaders need to nurture and grow their teams, provide a habitat for growth and pick out the weeds.

Process.  If you make processes ‘dummy proof’ you will only be able to hire and retain dummies.  Be very careful to ensure that process help people, not control or constrain them.


The book talk through the two main two options for change, both with different trade-offs and risks.

  • Big bang e.g., SalesForce, ING.  Is dramatic sends a message internally and externally but will cause considerable disruption and friction.
  • Slow change e.g., Lloyds Bank.  Is less disruptive, but the organisation may never truly change.


What I will do differently now?

  • Try to use the characteristics of Agile across all teams, including teams not directly involved in software development
  • Seek to refine my view on leadership, and support my leaders to do the same
  • Be very careful when I add process


You can buy ‘Agile of Agile’ at the link below from Amazon UK.



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