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Recently, I spent some time exploring the fascinating connection between two big ideas in business today: Agile methods and social business (a.k.a. social media used for business purposes).

While the bond may not be immediately apparent, I was called on to explain the deep relationship between the two at the inaugural Agile Executive Forum in Salt Lake City last August. From there, I began connecting the dots between a set of themes that have been commingling in my work: the considerable overlap between the fundamental principles behind social business and the concepts that underpin agile methods.

Agile methodology, as most IT people know, has been a noteworthy success at transforming the software development landscape, and now spreads far beyond that discipline to include project management, product development and business processes of all kinds. The 20-year history of agile is in definite contrast to the much newer phenomenon of social business that’s become a top priority for many business leaders in the last couple of years. Despite their different evolutions, in the graphic below I’ve mapped out how closely related agile methods and social business really are as better ways of managing loosely coupled teams of individuals in sustained, collaborative activity.

I’ve worked closely with agile methods over the years and have witnessed firsthand how they can deliver better, faster and qualitatively different outcomes than classical processes. This is probably why agile is now the most common software process that developers identify with — based on my experience and backed up by research data as well.

For its part, social business has become an increasingly common way for people to communicate and collaborate at work in a more open, agile way. As a newer field, it doesn't have as many trial-by-fire lessons learned and maturity that more traditional agile methods have. However, I believe many hard-won lessons from agile methods can be applied to the practice of social business. And, the reverse is also true: Social business brings to the table novel new approaches for dealing with scale, transparency, speed and tooling, which may appear a bit extreme and radical to agile folks who are more used to being the harbingers of change.


For all of these reasons, I believe that a consilience and cross-pollination between these two close cousins is needed. Agile methods can be updated and modernized with what social business offers, while social business methodology can gain experience and rigor from more traditional agile practices. This sharing will be highly fruitful for both fields and will shorten project schedules, access wider pools of innovation and deliver on the promise of business agility.

What will the resulting reconciliation look like? Part 2 will offer some specifics about how the two approaches compare, contrast and support each other.

Stay tuned!



Dion Hinchcliffe is a well-known expert in information technology, business strategy and next-generation enterprises. He is currently Executive Vice President of Strategy at Dachis Group in Austin, Texas. Dion  has extensive experience with enterprise technologies and he consults, advises and writes prolifically on social business, IT and enterprise architecture. Dion works in the trenches with clients in the Fortune 1000, government and Internet startup community. He is a keynote speaker and co-author of several books  including Web 2.0 Architectures from O'Reilly (2009), as well as the upcoming Social Business By Design (due out in the spring of 2012).

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