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  • Writer's pictureKarim Harbott

The Three Waves of Agile: Unlocking Business Agility

The Three Waves of Agile: Unlocking Business Agility


In today's fast-paced and ever-changing business landscape, organizations are constantly seeking ways to stay competitive and adapt to new challenges. One approach that has gained significant traction is the concept of agility. Agile methodologies, initially developed by a group of software engineers, have evolved beyond software development and are now being applied to the entire organization. This blog post explores the three waves of agile, highlighting their significance and impact on achieving business agility.

Wave One: Team Agility

The agile movement began with a group of 17 software engineers who gathered in Utah in 2001 for the Lightweight Frameworks Conference. They aimed to challenge the traditional waterfall model of software development, which proved to be bureaucratic and inflexible. This first wave of agility focused on empowering individual teams to work collaboratively, emphasizing the importance of individuals and interactions over processes and tools. By fostering trust, communication, and team spirit, organizations could enhance their ability to deliver high-quality software products. This wave laid the foundation for agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban, which revolutionized the software development industry.

Wave Two: Scaling Agility

As agile practices gained popularity, organizations faced the challenge of scaling agility beyond individual teams. The second wave of agility emerged, driven by the need to apply agile principles to larger projects and multiple teams. Scaling frameworks, such as SAFe, LeSS, and Nexus, were developed to guide organizations in achieving agility at scale. While debates continue about the superiority of different approaches, the focus of this wave was on adapting agile principles to larger organizational structures. The goal was to maintain the agility and collaboration of individual teams while aligning them towards a common purpose. This wave marked a significant step towards achieving organizational agility.

Wave Three: Business Agility

The third and most exciting wave of agility is business agility. While the previous waves primarily focused on software development, business agility extends the concept to the entire organization. It involves embracing agile values and principles across all functions, from marketing and finance to HR and operations. In a VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) world, the responsive, experimental, and customer-focused ethos of Agile is now the lifeblood of businesses seeking a competitive edge. Business agility enables organizations to innovate, adapt quickly, and respond effectively to market changes. By prioritizing customer value, fostering cross-functional collaboration, and embracing continuous improvement, organizations can gain a competitive advantage in today's fast-moving world. Business agility requires a cultural shift, empowering employees at all levels to make decisions, experiment, and learn from failures.

The Impact of Agile on Business

Each wave of Agile has left an indelible mark on how organizations operate. Here are some of the transformative impacts:

  1. Fostering a Culture of Continuous Improvement: Agile's emphasis on iterative development and responsiveness to change has cultivated a culture where continuous improvement is the norm.

  2. Customer-Centric Product Development: By involving customers throughout the development process, businesses can ensure that the final product aligns closely with customer needs and preferences.

  3. Enhanced Collaboration and Communication: Agile practices have broken down silos, fostering better communication and collaboration within and across teams.

  4. Flexibility and Adaptability: In an ever-changing business landscape, Agile organizations are better equipped to pivot and adapt, ensuring long-term survival and success.

Challenges and Considerations

However, the journey through the waves of Agile hasn't been without challenges. As organizations scale Agile practices, they often encounter resistance to change, difficulties in aligning multiple teams, and the struggle to maintain Agile principles in the face of growing complexity. Moreover, as Agile moves into the boardroom, leaders must embrace a new mindset that values adaptability over long-term planning and innovation over the exploitation of existing products.


The three waves of agile have transformed the way organizations approach work. From empowering individual teams to scaling agility across the organization and embracing business agility, the agile movement has revolutionized how businesses operate. By embracing agile principles and practices, organizations can unlock their full potential and thrive in an increasingly dynamic and competitive environment.


If you would like to dive more deeply into Agile Leadership and Business Agility, we have three great options to help you grow in that space:

1) Check out Karim’s best-selling book, The 6 Enablers of Business Agility.

2) Check out Karim’s self-paced, on-demand Agile Leadership & Business Agility course.

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