Using Agile to Solve All Types of Problems

Most software industry professionals understand what agile means and what it can potentially do for projects and customers. However, most of us tend to think that agile practices are best left to software services and solutions – there seems to be little applicability to other aspects of life, right? It’s not like these practices could be used to solve community issues, city budget problems, or executing strategic initiatives outside of software and services delivery, right? Many processes used by business and government are often very rigid because the risk is perceived to be quite high. Conventional wisdom suggests that utilizing agile like “games” to solve collaboration issues is just silly when working on $100,000,000 problems. However, this is exactly what the City of San Jose, CA did. When faced with huge budget deficits after the great recession, they needed new ways to look at their problems and come up with more collaborative solutions to solve their issues. By utilizing agile practices, largely facilitated by agile software experts, the city was able to work through some of their most pressing problems with great success. High collaboration/involvement also happens to be major aspects of multiple change leadership frameworks that drive lasting results (Kotter and Blanchard). Our own Agile Steering Group uses agile practices in order to develop our next wave of process improvement and agile process guidance. The outputs of these ideas are not really software solutions (although they are published in electronic form), but rather important ideas on “what” teams should do to be successful. It may seem strange that software delivery techniques can be used for much bigger concepts then software but there are a host of industry problems that are being tacked with the core agile techniques that revolve around high involvement and engagement. Might this be the beginning of the end for classic management as we understand it? Is it possible that these easy to understand (but difficult to master concepts) could be the beginning of a larger shift in collaborating our way to success? Time will tell. However, one thing seems clear; agile methodologies are more than simple little games to help improve customer and employee satisfaction. Collaborative problem solving at scale may very well represent the next frontier in business and government problem solving.