When reading the expose on Amazon workforce in New York Times, I could not but notice the similarities between the work philosophy that Jeff Bezos has installed upon Amazon and the one of Agile. Both have a set of principles, both strive to accumulate productivity and eliminate waste, yet it was difficult to believe, Agile based companies could turn out the same. Is it possible for an Agile workplace to become a news headliner where the reach for productivity is taken so far?
The answer, like anything in life, is yet to be determined, but the parallels between the two philosophies cannot really be ignored. Just like Agile, the company strives to be more nimble and more productive, at the same time eliminating waste anywhere they can. In fact, this philosophy was the very key to Jeff Bezos’ belief system, driving him in the creation of the most valuable retailer within the US that Amazon is today.
“According to early executives and employees, Mr. Bezos was determined almost from the moment he founded Amazon in 1994 to resist the forces he thought sapped businesses over time — bureaucracy, profligate spending, lack of rigor. “
Just having the core values was not enough for this successful entrepreneur and today, the company is ruled by a set of Amazon work principles that are to be learned and lived by every employee. In fact, these principles are nothing else, but just a further proof of the connotations to Agile. In the table below, you can find the principles from both the practices that actually match identically.
Looking at this, it is easy to presume that Agile based companies can be well on their way to installing practices not much different from Amazon. And in fact, this is what I first thought when reading the article – thinking on how the endless reach for improvement and productivity is changing the lives of thousands of employees. But then, I started to notice that there were also some differences between the two. I only realized later, those are the key that keeps Agile companies from going down the same road.
- Where the differences lie
One of the overlying things mentioned in the post over and over is the cutthroat mentality from the management and employees themselves. An eye for an eye culture is rooted deep and while it does drive the company forward it also sets it back. With Agile companies, however, this is never the case, as the work is organized in teams, creating a more communal environment and way of working. Instead of seeing your colleagues as competitors it provides an opportunity to realize they are your allies and instead of fighting for your place on the team, you are part of the team from day one.
Another big thing with Amazon is the never good enough mind set, while Agile strives for the best, but focuses on the minimum viable product as a goal. For Amazon, this creates a constant battle between the employees and instead of focusing on the same goal – creating a better company, they are focused on beating each other and even more so on beating themselves over and over again.
Lastly, in this case just like every employee is an island in their daily tasks, they are islands when it comes to evaluation. Strict quotas are provided for the number of people to be laid off and schemes are put in place by those wanting to save their position. At any point, an employee can become a sacrificial lamb, no matter their input and value to the company. Instead of focusing on the result of a team that Agile puts forward, each person is inspected and measured individually.
- Keep the team close
If I was asked to take away one main difference between Agile run companies and the case of Amazon, it would be the word team. It is one of the pillars of the Agile method and in this case it is the reason that makes me believe Agile run companies will not be making similar headlines in the future. By creating a communal goal and communal reward system, this methodology ensures, any person is not alone and instead has team behind them to help and achieve the end goals.