It’s hard to believe, but once upon a time bureaucracy was considered best practice, something to strive towards. In fact bureaucracy allowed organisations to grow much bigger than they had previously. Features including, hierarchical structures, division of labour, strict regulation and rigid chain of command were very much de rigueur. The German sociologist Max Weber admired aspects of modern bureaucracy but also warned of its threat to freedom and creativity. In fact Weber didn’t mince his words and likened increasing bureaucracy to a “polar night of icy darkness” and the overall system as an “iron cage”. Sound familiar? Nowadays, the very mention of bureaucracy is treated with eye rolling disdain and collective despondency.
Weber’s iron cage analogy still resonates strongly in today’s modern workplace. Most people encounter some form of bureaucracy in their daily lives or indeed work for bureaucratic organisations. Could there be a link between the machinations of modern bureaucracy and employee engagement? In a 2017 global workplace survey Gallup revealed that only 15% of employees feel engaged with their work. The report estimated that lost global productivity due to low employee engagement cost employers £5.6 trillion annually. Whilst the rigid controls of bureaucracy cannot take all the blame for low employee engagement it should certainly shoulder some of the responsibility. So how do we break out of the iron cage? Step forward Agile.
For organisations stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire and dealing with a jaded workforce the ‘Agile Way’ can be seen as a beacon of hope. The 2019 State of Agile Report reveals an interesting array of facts about Agile.
Whilst adopting Agile may not be a silver bullet, 64% of survey respondents reported an increase in team morale where Agile practices were implemented. Could Agile make a dent in those 85% of dis-engaged employees reported by Gallup?
One of the most notable changes from last year’s survey is the importance of Customer/User Satisfaction in measuring success. While business value still ranks highly, and there was a 27% increase in respondents realising reduced project costs as a tangible benefit of adopting Agile, Customer/User Satisfaction ranks as the top measure of success for agile initiatives
Other drivers listed by survey respondents for adopting Agile included the ability to manage changing priorities, project visibility, delivery speed, increased team productivity, project predictability and project risk reduction.
The benefits of finding your ‘Agile Zen’ are clear but how can we best enable successful Agile implementation? The latest report asserts that 97% of organisations have initiated agile methodologies in some form. However, competence in adopting Agile successfully was seen as low, with only 17% of respondents claiming high levels of success. Investment is crucial for scaling Agile successfully. The top responses from agile practitioners on the best way to implement successful agile practices were appointing internal agile coaches, executive sponsorship and company-provided training.
So, Bureaucracy might not be dead but Agile is definitely here to stay. If your organisation can invest in Agile then you stand a better chance of breaking free from the iron cage!