I get asked all the time how I got into agile without a background as a developer. Many of the people who ask me that question are seeing agile practices take over across industries and wondering if they should try it. Then their next thought is “I’m not a developer, I guess that means I shouldn’t bother.”
But Agile principles and practices are already being applied to all types of work across every discipline you can imagine, and agile will work for you and your organization, no matter what you are trying to accomplish. You don’t even need a new job, you can start right where you are.
As a Scrum Master and Agile Coach at Scaled Agile Inc., it is my job to walk the talk of business agility. This is no easy task, as teams in non-development positions often feel left out of the framework, or treated as an afterthought for not being developers. Not to mention, a lot of emphasis is put on product development and organizing around value, which is jargon very tightly associated with software development. This makes it easy to feel invisible, even more so when you are organized by function — Marketing, Sales, Accounting, HR etc. — not easily able to see your direct impact on the products delivered. Teams start to back away from agile, say they don’t create a product, or have a direct customer, or their entire org isn’t ready to change, so agile just won’t work for them.
I call BS. We all provide value to the customer, and we all have the power to influence our work environment. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have a job, or we would quit. Our value is in direct relation to the product our customers buy to solve their problems and make their lives better every day. Period. If you take one thing from reading this article, it should be that you deserve the joy of knowing you deliver value that makes people’s lives better, and agile methods can show you the way.
For example, if the Marketing team is running an A/B test of an email campaign to drive renewals, and the data folks are building a dashboard to make that data easily digestible and actionable, they are all working together to release value to customers in the form of understanding the product better, and ultimately furthering our knowledge of what drives customer satisfaction.
It is all part of the same value stream. The customers are the same. The organizational objectives are the same. The efforts and value serve each other and feed the cycle of customer centricity and value delivery that ultimately make our company competitive in the market.
Ok ok, maybe you are in HR or accounting and it makes sense for marketing, but what about me?
For accounting, it may be furthering your ability to fund value streams, budget quarterly and build forecasts based on the larger company vision, rather than funding rigid projects or relying on yearly funding cycles before making adjustments. This supports a system that allows for flexibility in how we learn and deliver value, ultimately getting customers what they want faster.
For HR, the product may be offering flexible working environments, building in innovation and learning opportunities etc that unlock the intrinsic motivation of knowledge workers, leading to more productive, happier employees who are engaged in the problem we are trying to solve for customers.
The thing here is that we all serve the same end customer. We may be directly serving an internal customer on our path to adding external customer value, but the end result is the same.
Business agility requires a shift in thinking to recognize the value and impact of your daily efforts, even when it doesn’t always result in the kind of tangible, shippable products that are described by engineering centric agile literature.
When you’re first implementing agile, all the rules, methodologies, ceremonies etc. can feel or sound developer specific, overwhelming and even ignorant of your role and skill set. But in fact, it is flexible and adaptable to many situations, and is likely already succeeding somewhere in your context.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can’t do agile if you aren’t in a development organization. You do not need a background in development to become an agile practitioner. You don’t need to produce software to use agile methodologies and practices to improve the quality of your work and company culture. You don’t need to follow the framework or manifesto as if it were doctrine to find success. You just need to start applying what feels good today, experiencing it in your context, and iterating on it, and the magic will happen.