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Agility Health

September 18, 2011

Agile is an umbrella term for Scrum, Extreme Programming, Lean Development, Kanban, etc. with roots are in Agility or the “ability to be agile”. Many consider Agile a technology approach; however, the “ability to be agile” (or Agility) applies to the whole enterprise or organization, business & technology including executives, management, and teams.

Quintessentially, Agility is a value system that emphasizes people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness. See Agility Distilled: The Essence of Agility, Manifesto for Agility, and Principles behind the Manifesto for Agility for more information.

As Agility has proliferated across various industries and as more individuals, teams or collectives, and organizations or enterprises approach Agility — that is, adopting, scaling, and sustaining more agile approaches such as Scrum or AIR — there is growing interest in assessing or apprising a team’s or organization’s Agility, or even more so, its Agility/Agile Health or it’s Agility Health Quotient (AHQ) / Agility Health Index (AHI).

How Agile are We?

While assessment approaches such as the Nokia Test, Comparative Agility, or Scrum Checklist focus on practices/techniques, a more foundational approach involves focusing on behaviors/values (after all, Agility is a value system!).

Agility Health

Herein is an empirical (experiential focused) approach that considers Business (Product Owner or Action Owner) and Technology (Engineering Team or Action Owner) with a neutral party (commonly known as “Switzerland”, the Scrum Master or Flow Owner) relative to Agility, which again is a value system that emphasizes people, results, collaboration, and responsiveness (as aspects).

Additionally, this description includes Business, Technology, Governance, Operations, Program/Project Management, and Enterprise Architecture dimensions. Business areas generally include Marketing, Sales, Support, and Products/Services (Product Management or Services Management with Product Managers). Technology areas generally include Engineering, Architecture (Architects), and Infrastructure. Program/Project Management (Project Managers) focuses on the human means to deliver business value. Enterprise Architecture focuses on the technology means to deliver business value. Governance focuses on oversight in the delivery of business value. Operations focuses on supporting the delivery of business value.

People: Commitment-based Accountability

Consider people’s commitments to intentions (outcomes, goals, objectives, etc.) & actions (tasks) and consider people’s accountability against their commitments, that is, overall ownership:

  • If people authentically commit and authentically hold each other accountable, this aspect may be considered High.
  • If people authentically commit, this aspect may be considered Medium.
  • If people don’t authentically commit or don’t authentically hold each other accountable, this aspect may be considered Low.

Consider the difference between interest & commitment: “When you’re interested in something, you only do it if circumstances permit.”

Fundamentally, if people are challenged with commitment or accountability, they may be part of an unnatural group.

Results: Value-based Results

Consider people’s creation of business results and business value (client, customer, etc.):

  • If people authentically produce value (or business results that are valued in a business context), this aspect may be considered High.
  • If people authentically produce business results (in a business context, but not necessarily business valued results), this aspect may be considered Medium.
    Note: Producing technology infrastructure does not produce business value but only the potential of future business value!
  • If people don’t authentically produce business results (or business value), this aspect may be considered Low.
Fundamentally, if people are challenged with business results or business value, they may be part of an unnatural group.

Collaboration: Mutual Authentic & Appreciative Engagement

Consider people’s engagement:

  • If engagement involves flow-and-pull and is genuine (authentic), valued (appreciated), reciprocated (mutual), this aspect may be considered High.
  • If engagement involves flow-and-pull, this aspect may be considered Medium.
  • If engagement does not involve flow-and-pull (but batch-and-push), this aspect may be considered Low.
Fundamentally, if people are challenged with engagement, they may be part of an unnatural group.

Responsiveness: Time-based Results

Consider people’s responsiveness:

  • If people are responsive (not merely reactive or expeditious) to any chaos that surrounds them, this aspect may be considered High.
  • If people are responsive (not merely reactive or expeditious) to change, this aspect may be considered Medium.
  • If people are not responsive (but may be merely reactive or expeditious), this aspect may be considered Low.
Fundamentally, if people are challenged with responsiveness, they may be part of an unnatural group.

Agility Health Quotient (AHQ) / Agility Health Index (AHI)

Generally,

  • If the aspects are predominantly Low, overall Agility Health may be regarded as Low, less healthy (or ultimately unhealthy).
  • If the aspects are predominantly Medium, overall Agility Health may be regarded as Medium, stable.
  • If the aspects are predominantly High, overall Agility Health may be regarded as High, more healthy (or ultimately healthy).

Specifically, quantifying these qualitative aspects, if Low is 1 point, Medium is 2 points, and High is 3 points, Agility Health is the sum of the points related to each aspects (which are equally weighted). Thus, four Low aspects is 1 + 1 + 1 +1 for a total of 4, and four High aspects is 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 for a total of 12. Thus, a sum/score of:

  • 4 is regarded as predominantly unhealthy.
  • 5 or 6 is regarded as less healthy.
  • 7, 8, or 9 is regarded as stable.
  • 10 or 11 is regarded as more healthy.
  • 12 is regarded as predominantly healthy.

Variations of this approach have included a 5 point scale (very high, high, medium, low, very low) and weighing the aspects.

Anecdotal evidence using this approach to consistently gauge Agility Health and measure the Agility Health Quotient (AHQ) / Agility Health Index (AHI) of a team or organization over time has proven valuable to derive actionable steps in improving health.

Additionally, the notion of an unnatural group is crucial in fostering a thriving organization.

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