Transparency and Experimentation

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Q: In the public sector, how do you square distributed autonomy and learning from failure with public scrutiny and political accountability?

Author Darrell Rigby responds: Public scrutiny and political accountability are actually hallmarks of effective Agile enterprises.

Agile practitioners are proud of their results, and they use increased transparency to quickly share best practices and accelerate learning and growth. Agile increases experimentation, and that improves results. But it also increases the number of bold experiments that probably won’t turn out exactly as expected. Good decisions don’t always result in perfect outcomes.

When we invest in Agile teams, we prefer to give them bold missions with high expected values even if they fail more frequently. We give them greater autonomy. We expect them (collectively) to increase profitable growth and take calculated risks. We expect to learn things that will make future innovations more successful. We reward them for doing all this, and we encourage them to pause, stop or pivot quickly when the expected value turns negative.

If stakeholders believe that the goal is to minimize mistakes and they try to punish any initiative that falls short of perfection, then Agile may not be the right tool for your organization. But if the objective is to accelerate profitable growth for the entire enterprise, we haven’t found a better way to do that.

For more, please read two recent articles in Harvard Business Review: “An Agile Approach to Budgeting for Uncertain Times” and “Start Stopping Faster.”