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Does Agile Kill Innovation?

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Does Agile Kill Innovation?

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I will be moderating a panel discussion on this topic at the Agile India 2013. Given the incessant pace of technology evolution, ever-growing competition where product functionality is hardly the differentiator anymore (if it ever was!), shrinking time-to-market expectations where ‘ continuous deployment‘ seems to have been relegated to a hygiene factor already, there are clearly two major trends in product development. While development teams are focusing on using principles from agile, lean, kanban and lean startup to tackle risks and uncertainties earlier in the lifecycle and deliver working software to improve customer collaboration from the word go, the business groups are looking at a complex world, more popularly known as the ‘ VUCA’ world – Volatile, Complex, Uncertain and Ambiguous, where making big bets seems fraught with risks of untold magnitude (not to mention, the additional pressures of quarterly earnings calls, at least for public companies), and ironically, the other option of incremental innovation seems like it's not a fit candidate for the ‘next big thing’.

Agile India 2013So, is agile a set of powerful methods to simply improve the development efficiency without being able to answer the fundamental questions from the business that funds it and expects to get a topline ROI? Or, should the businesses start looking out at next big thing on their own? Are ‘agile’ and ‘innovation’ the long-lost cousins who are destined to meet somewhere sometime, or are they at a fundamental conflict with each other, and we have simply created a new two-axis ‘project triangle‘ – where you could choose just one of these two?

Agile practices are sometimes considered an ‘overhead’ by product teams that are used to a more free-wheeling culture of innovation, and sometimes considered too ‘lightweight’ for developing large enterprise-class products that require high availability or reliability requirements to be rigorously baked into the product. Similarly, for companies that manage outsourced application development and product maintenance work, the notion of delivery reliability and predictability is paramount from their customer’s perspective, and hence leaves little scope for innovating service delivery processes. On the other hand, we do have examples of application of agile, lean and lean startup practices leading to highly successful innovation, especially in web-based startups.

So, is it a right hypothesis that agile kills innovation, or are there critical success factors that we could learn from? Is it possible to tailor agile methods to accelerate innovation in different domains? Can services companies innovate their service offerings using agile practices and create win-win proposition for their customers and themselves?

Can agile and innovation co-exist and co-deliver?

I think the time is ripe for such a conversation.

In this session, we will explore this question with experts, practitioners and business leaders, and try to understand what, why and how it has worked for them?

Do you have ideas, anecdotes or success stories to share on this subject? Share them here, and I will be happy to refer to them at the panel discussion.


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