What Business Agility and living with dogs have in common

Agility in business is on everyone's lips and describes the ability of a company to quickly adapt its business model and organisation to new market requirements and opportunities. Being agile means being flexible, adaptable and proactive at the same time.

I often bore my colleagues at work with stories about my dogs Chilly and Max. Chilly, a small black terrier mix from the animal shelter and the big new addition to the family called Max, a stubborn elegant appearance with 68cm shoulder height. She is a Galga Espaniol, a Spanish sighthound bred for hunting hares. As different as the origins and originally bred instincts of my two furry kids are, they are also different in their nature and behaviour. Both are dogs - but they could not be more different. Chilly is small and hairy, Max is big and has a graceful figure. Just physically, as a dutiful dog mummy, I have to be considerate of their respective needs.

While Chilly sleeps in her bag on the train, I always have to make sure that Max doesn't block the way of all the other train passengers with her long legs; or push her wet doggy snout under every hand because she desperately wants to be stroked. While Chilly, a classic terrier personality, tends to show off to crossing strange dogs in an arrogant, megalomaniac, self-confident and loud manner that the path belongs to her; Max, the sighthound is the pure opposite. She approaches with polite caution, almost bowing to her fellow dogs, and asks in clear dog language for permission to enter the individual space. You are probably wondering if you have strayed into an article on the behaviour of different dog breeds - don't worry, the transition into business follows immediately.

On closer inspection, living with barking four-legged friends has a lot to do with the Agile Manifesto and the principles it describes.

As a Scrum Master, I am in the agile environment daily, mainly at the customer, and therefore inevitably I come across the agile "new world and old world" again and again (for the suspense, it has nothing to do with Covid this time 😊). Let's take this comparison as an example: where "individuals and interactions" are enormously important today, and we also experienced a strong shift in dog training towards "individuals and interactions are more important than processes & tools".

In the past, dogs lived outside, wind and weather did not matter, and guarded the house and yard. They did not belong in the house, in human beds (although that is debatable), nor were they considered a member of the family as the way they are today. Nowadays, our dogs wear winter, rain and seasonal transition coats.

In those days, however, dogs were disciplined by clear guidelines/education methods (processes*). For this purpose, the appropriate tools were used – some of which today would probably be considered animal cruelty. The dogs were chained to house walls or dog houses, beaten if they did not do what humans demanded, or kept in cellars for months without proper food for hunting (traditional hare hunting with sighthounds in Spain is unfortunately still common today).

However, the fact that there are also different characters among dogs, for example the notorious Appenzellerbless, was ignored for a long time. Have you ever asked yourself why many "farm dogs" only bark instead of biting? Often out of sheer insecurity. Have you ever run or walked past a farm and been annoyed by the barker every time? Or, in extreme cases, have you planned your jogging route in such a way that you no longer must pass this farm? Maybe because you were unsure how to behave in this "dog barking and running towards me" situation?

Not to completely lose the thread to agility in business - do you also know this "barking" from your work environment? People bark loudly behind the back of the boss or other employees, but when the going gets tough, they do not bite. What could be the reason for this? Is it naked fear, as with the insecure Appenzellerbless? Or is it perhaps because the employees feel unappreciated and unseen right from the start or are maybe overwhelmed with what is being asked of them? Is the solution really to ignore the problem and, as with the yard dog, simply change the jogging route?

In the new world of the agile manifesto, we take time for the employee. We interact with them, ask where the shoe pinches and then give them the tools they need and guide them through the process. Or - we revise the process with them in such a way that it is right for everyone involved and brings added value.

Back to our dog on the farm. Of course, there are dogs that are absolutely happy with the responsibility of protecting a house or a farm and are even proud of this task. But there are also dogs that are completely overwhelmed by it. This overload is then reflected in loud barking, putting their ears to their necks, snarling, and tucking their tails.

So, do not be the jogger who changes the route. Be the farmer who reads the situation correctly and sees the dog's needs - responds to them and finds a solution that works for dog, farmer and jogger.

Because individuals and interactions are more important than processes and tools.

* Dog training can be seen as a "process" when it comes to animal welfare dogs, for example. The arrival of a shelter dog from abroad is very stressful for the dog and it needs time to process the new impressions. The actual "dog training" can therefore only begin months after the dog has moved in and often takes longer (months, if not years) than with a dog with no "history" from a reputable breeder.

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