The End of Change?

There are many important milestones in the history of Agile ideas. The Shewhart Cycle of the 1930s is sometimes said to be the origin of modern adaptive methods of production. The development of Kaizen in Japan in the 1950s and Scrum in the 1980s and 90s were also important influences. Let me call out one noteworthy event which has its 30th anniversary this year: the genesis of the Agility Forum at Lehigh University in 1994.

Rick Dove, Roger Nagel and others at Lehigh adopted the term Agile in 1991 to refer to the practices of adaptation, continuous improvement and empowered teams that they were championing in US manufacturing industry. In 1994 the Agile Manufacturing Enterprise Forum was renamed as the Agility Forum - an acknowledgement that those practices applied in manufacturing also had value for a much wider audience. Hundreds of organizations participated and learnt from the Agile Forum's ideas in the 1990s. In 2001, the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and the Agile Alliance promoted awareness of those ideas in the field of software development.

Thirty years on, AI has become an enabler for the Agile Enterprise. Widespread adoption of AI contributes to the trend in many businesses whereby innovation and change become business-as-usual activities undertaken by operational and product teams rather than something put into effect only by dedicated change management teams. An alternative to having an expert task force who parachute in to accomplish big changes is to have empowered operational teams that will flex: teams that grow, scale-back or reorganize as the need arises; teams that do their own research and development; that can learn new skills enabled by AI and other productivity tools; that have access not only to the data they need to make decisions but to the operational levers to put change into effect.

DevOps is already mainstream in software development of course, but modern agile enterprises expect adaptive practices to be in place for any or all teams, not just software operations teams, and they want a wider range of people to have access to agility-enabling technology and data. That can mean for example that process improvements, implementing new tooling, incident response and learning from operational intelligence become BAU activities rather than the domain of specialists alone.

In the same way that organizations require regulatory compliance and quality assurance to be the responsibility of all, so innovation is no longer the province only of specialists. When adaptability becomes everyone's responsibility and when all teams have access to suitable tools and human capital then Change (big C) is no longer just part of a specialist job title; change (small c) is something that everyone can put into practice every day. Enterprise agility ultimately means embracing change in place of Change!