Efficiency Through Nimbleness

Agile methods do not directly affect efficiency. Agile stands for nimble. Agility ensures effectiveness through nimbleness. This adaptability minimizes the risk of unnecessary work and rework. The efficiency of agility comes only indirectly through reducing risk and avoiding waste.

What are the ben­e­fits of agili­ty? Many man­agers ask this legit­i­mate ques­tion when they feel that yes­ter­day’s meth­ods are too slow and cum­ber­some today and hope to find a rem­e­dy in agile prac­tices. After all, the title of a stan­dard work on Scrum promis­es that it can get done twice the work in half the time (Suther­land, 2019). Which man­ag­er can say no to that? But can the promised ben­e­fits of agili­ty be short­ened to speed and effi­cien­cy in such a way?

It depends. There are indeed aspects that are accel­er­at­ed by agile — learn­ing, for exam­ple. Through an empir­i­cal approach, the team under­stands what works well and what works not so well by tri­al and error. In con­trast to an ana­lyt­i­cal and plan-dri­ven approach, test­ing hap­pens much ear­li­er and more fre­quent­ly in real life and with real cus­tomers. Thus learn­ing occurs much faster and more often, and nec­es­sary course cor­rec­tions are tak­en ear­li­er with few­er costs at stake. Agile, there­fore pri­mar­i­ly means nim­ble and not fast or efficient.

There is sure­ly noth­ing quite so use­less as doing with great effi­cien­cy what should not be done at all.

Peter Druck­er (Druck­er, 1963)

In agile meth­ods, learn­ing is not lim­it­ed to the prod­uct and its accep­tance by cus­tomers but also means a con­tin­u­ous improve­ment of coop­er­a­tion in the best tra­di­tion of lean man­age­ment. “At reg­u­lar inter­vals, the team reflects on how to become more effec­tive, then tunes and adjusts its behav­ior accord­ing­ly,” is there­fore stat­ed in the prin­ci­ples behind the Man­i­festo for Agile Soft­ware Devel­op­ment from 2001. It should be not­ed that here, too — and cer­tain­ly not by mis­take — the term “more effec­tive” is used rather than “more effi­cient.” Nim­ble­ness as the core of agile aims at effec­tive­ness: doing the right things instead of sim­ply push­ing more work through the sys­tem with high­er pressure.

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 (Cov­ey, 2004, S. 98)

Agili­ty pri­mar­i­ly ensures that the lad­der always leans against the right wall before start­ing to paint, even and espe­cial­ly when this wall turns out to be a “mov­ing tar­get.” This effec­tive­ness accel­er­ates the prod­uct devel­op­ment process end-to-end, espe­cial­ly in com­plex envi­ron­ments, because there will be less waste caused by late sur­pris­es and rework. The peo­ple involved don’t just dis­cov­er after paint­ing that the lad­der was, unfor­tu­nate­ly, lean­ing against the wrong wall after all, but check this at an ear­ly stage through feed­back from the house owner.


Cov­ey, S. R. (2004). The 7 Habits of High­ly Effec­tive Peo­ple: Pow­er­ful Lessons in Per­son­al Change (Rev. ed.). Free Press.

Druck­er, P. F. (1963). Man­ag­ing for Busi­ness Effec­tive­ness. Har­vard Busi­ness Review. https://hbr.org/1963/05/managing-for-business-effectiveness

Suther­land, J. (2019). Scrum: The art of doing twice the work in half the time. rh Ran­dom House Business.

Titel­bild von Yogen­dra Singh bei Unsplash.

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