Agile Business Management (or building a lean business you can be proud of)

Traditional models of management and corporate governance are failing to keep up with the needs of the modern economy. Change, both technological and cultural, is occurring at faster rates than ever before and companies live or die on their ability to adapt. This is where Agile, and Agile Business Management, come in. Agile is change; changing how you think, changing how you work and changing the way you interact. This is important whether you are a software developer or a CEO.

In this presentation, Evan will redefine what it means to do business through engaging and enlightening case studies of Agile beyond IT; from lean startups to large enterprises. These will be reinforced with practical approaches for the leadership of teams, divisions and businesses.

Taking the successful concepts and methods from the Agile movement and Evan's new book, Agile Business Management is a framework for the day-to-day management of organisations regardless of industry, size or location. We will discuss processes, techniques, and case studies for the 4 key domains from Agile Business Management;

  1. You, the Agile Manager - What makes a good manager and how do their responsibilities change?
  2. Integrated Customer Engagement - Collaboration and communication techniques to build trust and deliver Customer needs efficiently, with minimal waste, and to everyone's satisfaction.
  3. The Structure of an Agile Organisation - Efficient, transparent and collaborative techniques to manage empowered staff.
  4. Work, the Agile Way - Managing all types of business functions, from software, HR, finance to legal, by using Just-In-Time planning and Incremental or Continuous Delivery processes.

Ultimately, the goal of this presentation is to make you think about your role as a leader. More information can be found here.

What is Agile

Agile is a generic term that describes a series of development, Q/A, and project management methods for delivering work in a highly flexible, customer focused and iterative manner. Well known agile methods include Scrum, Test Driven Development, Extreme Programming (XP) and Feature Driven Design. The business models discussed in this presentation draw from many of these methods as well as the 5 common underlying elements of agile;

  1. direct customer involvement,
  2. iterative work adapting to changing customer requirements,
  3. cross-functional & self-organising teams,
  4. sustainable work processes, and
  5. regular review and reflection

Direct Customer Involvement

One of the core attributes of any agile methodology is the short-term fulfilment of “customer” needs through a collaborative and iterative approach. How you define a customer is context sensitive and can include external clients, senior management, or other organisational areas. Examples include:

  1. In a business intelligence context; the customer could be the financial division requesting a financial report.
  2. In a service delivery context; the customer could be your client or consumer.
  3. In a retail context, the customer could be a product manager. However a customer would not someone walking into a shop-front purchasing your product. There is an insufficient level of interaction to involve them in your business processes.

This collaboration is best achieved by integrating the customer within the work process itself, which grants a level of ownership and responsibility for delivery. The customer is responsible for defining and prioritising the major deliverables, working with the teams to ensure appropriate delivery and undertaking final user acceptance testing. We will also examine some of the drawbacks of this model, including the additional imposition of time from the customer.

Iterative Work Adapting to Changing Customer Requirements

This presentation will then look at how work can be undertaken using an iterative or incremental approach. Through early and regular engagement with the customer (or consumer of the work) teams members create a prioritised backlog of requirements that need to be delivered. Throughout each iteration the backlog must be kept up to date with the customers latest and changing requirements, ensuring that the customers current needs are met.

This backlog forms the basis of each iteration as the top few deliverables as grouped into an iteration backlog, decomposed into individual tasks and estimated. The iteration itself should be between 1-4 weeks, at the end of which the team will deliver a self-contained, tested and usable, though incomplete, product. The product itself will continue to evolve as each iteration builds upon the last.

For example, a HR department develops a new set of OH&S standards using these processes. The customer, the organisations OH&S committee, defines 4 requirements; computer use, manual labour, travel and illness. This is assigned to a team of 3 to deliver over 3 x 1 week iterations, with a manager assigned to integrate, review and interface with the customer.

Benefits of this iterative model include;

  • reduced overtime through easily measurable work and clearly defined outcomes,
  • a repeatable estimation mechanism to aid in workload management,
  • a known rate of work (velocity) which improves forward planning,
  • higher quality work through embedded testing and q/a processes,
  • simplification of work by focusing on immediate, short-term deliverables, and
  • greater customer satisfaction through early, regular and targeted delivery.

This presentation will also look at success measures for agile delivery based on quality, speed and satisfaction of the end product.

Cross-Functional & Self-Organising Teams

We examine the potential benefits of cross-functional and self-organising teams within an organisational structure. Utilising a prioritised (by business value and effort) backlog of work, teams can be dynamically established outside of traditional reporting hierarchies.

For example, a business promotion team could include sales people, marketers, graphic designers, software engineers, writers, subject matter experts, etc.

We look at the potential composition & configuration for work teams as well as the roles for management and support staff. A team is responsible for delivering a product or work outcome and is typically between 5-9 full-time staff.

The benefits to this integration are faster development times, quick response to issues and improved information sharing. However to effectively realise these benefits requires all team members to be adaptable and committed.

Sustainable work processes

Agile processes are designed promote a sustainable workload where the teams, management, and customers are able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely. Teams are given the authority to design, plan and estimate each iteration, as well as the responsibility for delivery. This level of ownership for work, combined with direct customer engagement, significantly improves workload management, which in turn reduces overtime and stress.

Providing each team with a level of authority and autonomy also reduces the, often unnecessary, hierarchical levels of management within many organisations.

Regular review and reflection

Lastly this presentation will examine introspection and reflection methods. These methods encourage organisations to review business management processes to ensure continuous improvement and adapt quickly to changing circumstances.


Agile business management v3 from Evan Leybourn

Learning Outcomes

Regardless of whether you come from IT, HR, Finance or Sales, the goals of this presentation are to;

  • make you think about your role as a manager or leader
  • raise questions about your Customers; who are they, what are their needs, what are their goals, and how can you work together
  • introduce new possibilities and ways of doing business

You will come away from this presentation with practical understanding of Agile Business Management as well as techniques, based on the 4 domains, that you can apply within your own organisation. These include;

  • Defining the requirements, and KPI’s, for a good agile manager and the cognitive distortions that impact on good management
  • Understanding the difference between Customer & consumer and between internal and external Customers
  • Learn to build a light-weight, Agile, business case to meet governance requirements
  • Guidance on how to tailor Agile to different business functions (HR, ICT, Sales, Finance, Media, Legal, Production & Operations)
  • Adapting XP, Scrum and Kanban to manage workflow and requirements across the organisation in non-IT and non-project environments
  • Customising TDD to manage outcomes and quality control across an Agile organisation
  • How to design an organisation structure based on cross-functional teams
  • The benefits of an Agile board and executive governance bodies
  • How to create Agile budgets and funding models, and who has responsibility for their management.


A brief (5 min) introduction will familiarise the audience with the topic of Agile Business Management and the differences between Agile ICT management and Agile Business Management. The bulk of the presentation will be split into discussing the 4 domains (The Agile Manager, Integrated Customer Engagement, The Structure of an Agile Organisation, Work, the Agile Way) with at least 2 real-life case studies. During each domain, we will cover processes and techniques applicable to most industries and business functions, with some specific examples to demonstrate how to tailor the framework.

Depending on the size of the audience, I generally welcome questions throughout the presentation but will allocate approximately 5 minutes at the end for complex and additional questions.