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Book Review: The Age of Agile

The book starts with explaining the three fundamentals of agile as applicable in simple non-technical manner to a broader management audience

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Needless to say stephen denning  has been one of the foremost authors in the field of management. His latest book The Age of Agile focuses on agility. The core of the book lies in how to transform corporations into nimble sprinters and winning athletes. Often, management books pick a specific topic and then dissect it. Prescriptions are layered, methodologies are smattered and processes are brewed. Then, there is talk about leadership, people, culture and what have you. A few case studies, some outliers and viola, there is a wonderful cover on the stands often endorsed by somebody from the same fraternity. But this book stands out, right from the premise.

Software development has significantly benefited from agile, now why not use the techniques holistically across the fabric of the company and its many other functions – continuously and steadily. Importantly to realise that there is nothing as an end-state; not to stop agile with a few early wins. Well this needs commitment from leadership and to introduce the culture and mind-set of smaller teams, rapidly doing things, working with customers to get feedback, improvising, learning and then re-inventing. Very necessary paradigm given that the markets change while you take a quick wink.  

The book starts with explaining the three fundamentals of agile as applicable in simple non-technical manner to a broader management audience. One, focus on small teams. They aid in faster communication, break complex tasks into bits, solve and integrate rapidly iterations with the customers in real-time.

Second, focus on the customer. Create one, go beyond the obvious, understand end-users and the ultimate customers. What we usually perceive as customers may not be exactly the decision maker or the influencer. Defining services and products around customer-chains and aligning people to the linkages in the chain is critical for customer stickiness. Last, the network effect - irrational, emotive, exponential and how to ride it using strong operational and technology platforms. Many internet companies have mastered the art and are thriving on networks. Features become norms. Norms become traits. And traits powerful habits. A habit cannot be dismissed that easily. Within the habit lies the DNA of the company which controls the network.

Many case studies to support the idea of agile at broad-scale are offered. Spotify creates an interesting feature; Microsoft manages at scale; then there is agile for CFOs in arriving at through-put accounting; how Salesforce avoided the big mistakes; implementing the culture of agile is facet that is delved into. Interestingly the book also covers inept linkages to share-holder value, external metrics which perhaps directly don’t correlate and could dampen the agile outcomes. The book veers towards traps - cost orientation, offshore play and loss of competencies etc.

The coverage is so extensive that on the flip-side, while I like the flow, premise, the overall paradigm and the program delivery of the book, which surely is content-rich; the book could be quite text heavy for an average reader who wants to get to learn something on the fly.  Besides, prescriptive recipes and repeats further emphasise the constructs, which could have been avoided. Probably the topic needed this coverage to give it a holistic shot, however brevity in content and crispy coverage would have upped the ante’.

Every book has a narrative and a story to tell. Some meander and some hit the nail on its head. This one is compelling right from the start, primarily because the constructs work and fundamentals can be applied at any stage of a company’s journey. It would surely make senior executives think. A great read for those who are in the midst of business transformations to implement agile across the company.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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book reviews magazine 24 November 2018

T.G.C. Prasad

The writer is CEO & Founder, mSupply

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