Agility means effectiveness. It is less about efficiency, but primarily about doing the right thing. But how can you know what is right in a world in which it is “normal that many things are different and are becoming different faster and faster” (Karl-Heinz Geißler)? The answer is simple: You can’t know, you have to experiment. That’s why agility always means customer orientation, because insights can only be gained through feedback from the field. At its core, agility is therefore empirical research into possible solutions for unknown needs in fast-moving markets.
If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.Steven R. Covey, 2004. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
The term empirical is derived from the Greek word Greek εμπειρία (empeiría) and translates roughly as experience or experiential knowledge. It refers to the methodical-systematic collection of data, experiences and knowledge with the purpose of testing or refuting theoretical assumptions about the world’s interrelationships. Agility thus always begins with the well-known insight attributed to Socrates: “I know that I do not know!” The logical consequence of this sage realization of not knowing and the honest admission of uncertainty is to work with hypotheses. Every prioritization, every sprint planning is therefore a hypothesis for a promised customer benefit. Good hypotheses will prove themselves and bad ones will be refuted. Failure as a means of gaining knowledge is thus in principle part of agility. Without this failure culture there can be no agility.
An empirical-scientific system must be able to fail based on experience.Karl Popper, Logik der Forschung 17
But if agility now essentially means gaining empirical insights through customer proximity and customer feedback, then this necessarily requires decentralized structures and a high degree of self-organization. The usual communication and command channels up and down the hierarchy, and then through various committees, impedes fast learning far too much. Decisions must be made where the implementation takes place and where the information about the impact of the decisions is obtained: in the team and close to the customer.
Most people do not really want freedom because freedom means acceptance of responsibility, most people tremble at such acceptance.Sigmund Freud
So agility always means subsidiarity and this requires interdisciplinarity. In order for agile teams to be able to work and decide autonomously close to the customer, they must be interdisciplinary, i.e. their members must have all the skills and specializations required for this work.
Conversely, this autonomy also means greater responsibility than in hierarchical organizations. The team is always responsible for its decisions. The convenient excuse of having only executed commands and implemented committee decisions does not exist in agile organizations.