I recently reflected with a colleague on why so many companies are not getting the expected outcomes related to their efforts to implement 'Agile' or 'Product led development.'  And while there are several reasons for this, one key factor is the adoption of techniques without considering the underlying concepts.

Early in my career, when I was working in manufacturing, the same thing was happening in the physical world of product development -- specifically developing cars. Most US car companies were trying to adopt some form of the "Toyota Production System" based upon what was termed Lean Manufacturing. But few were actually successful at replicating Toyota's success.

There appear to be clear parallels with the current challenges facing agile implementation (not entirely surprising considering Agile’s roots are in lean manufacturing). Most early and even mid-term efforts tend to focus on adopting the tools & techniques of Agile: backlogs, stand-ups, demos, etc. What they often lack is thinking about the collective and individual concepts and intent behind those techniques. And, therefore, they can miss what else has to be done to achieve the intent. Or said another way, what is the total 'system' needed?

And sometimes, the whole of Agile is blamed as a bad idea. How many articles or cartoons have you seen about the death of Agile?

Agile is not dead. But implementing a handful of disconnected agile techniques is insufficient.

For example, if I put in place small ‘scrum teams’ without considering the skills and capabilities needed on that team, I don’t actually get greater throughput of features. If I do daily standups but don’t actually focus on making decisions and eliminating blockers, the teams are still stuck running in place. If I break up stories into tasks but still have the same monolithic code base, my time to market for product updates will not be better.

Even if I get all that right but haven't done the up-front work to understand my market and the opportunity I'm trying to pursue, my revenues and margins will not improve.

If you want a good resource for thinking through "the why" of some of the concepts underlying lean and agile, take a look at Niklas Modig’s Ted Talk, The Efficiency Paradox | Niklas Modig | TEDxUmeå. Or better yet, read his book, This is Lean: Resolving the Efficiency Paradox by Modig, Niklas, Ahlstrom, Par (2012).

Notice how he discusses limiting work-in-process and encapsulating work into small teams, not as individual actions but as a part of a whole system. One of the many reasons I like Modig's work is that he does not use software development in his examples, forcing us to think about the concepts, not the techniques.