Legacy Thinking versus Agile Thinking

Today, I am intrigued and bothered by "legacy thinking". Legacy thinking, is when leaders in an organization, stakeholders on an initiative, or managers of resources or funding believe that they can invest once and largely get it right the first time. We know what this looks like as an end product; legacy software applications, roads that are in disrepair, hospitals with antiquated practices, retail stores with poor customer experiences.  This is a legacy service; a product, service, or operation that lacks feedback processes and resources to make continuous improvements. These services become complex over time because the underlying knowledge of why and how something was constructed erodes.

In between legacy thinking and service and thinking is legacy funding. It's often the byproduct of the organization's culture (legacy thinking) and accounting practices that lead organizations to fund and allocate resources once around a product, project, or process improvement. As a CIO, I see it every time a project comes in with a fixed investment and resource allocation with no or little provisions to support ongoing improvements. A facilities manager feels it every time they have to make difficult judgement calls on what to repair or replace.

Agile Development vs Agile Thinking and Agile Funding


The success of agile processes to develop new products, complete projects, or run operations in everything from software development, construction, and marketing has made many organizations successful getting things done. But I'm not sure this success has fully transitioned organizations to Agile Thinking and Agile Funding. Agile thinking is driven by asking question, experimenting, and prioritizing. It requires ongoing, but not necessarily flat investment depending on the depreciation and competitive cycles of the services. I call it cyclical investment so that every few years, a product or service will need a bump up investment for a step-up improvement. Also, rather than just ROI, agile funding insures that prioritization is driven by broader KPIs and metrics.

The byproduct of agile thinking and funding leads to an agile service, largely characterized by improvements driven by customers, economics (efficiencies), and competitive factors (innovation).

Unfortunately, many organizations are transforming to agile in the opposite direction. They develop the product or service using agile practices, but the transformation in funding and culture comes later if at all.

Almost fifteen years since the agile manifesto was created. We still have work to do.


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