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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By Marcus Raitner

Hi, I'm Marcus. I'm convinced that elephants can dance. Therefore, I accompany organizations on their way towards a more agile way of working. Since 2010 I regularly write about leadership, digitization, new work, agility, and much more in this blog. More about me.

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