Agile — the new approach for exploiting workers

ANZ Bank says it wants to use Agile methods and practices.
September 30, 2017

It is amazing how innovative companies can be when it comes to finding more ways to exploit people.

Take for example the adoption of “agile” methods and processes in the workplace. Large corporations, in particular, have been the champions of agile practices as the basis for their corporate transformations.

The ANZ Bank recently stated that it wanted to operate more like a startup company to react faster to threats from small fintech companies disrupting its business and threatening its profit margins. According to ANZ, this is possible through the use of agile methods and practices.

Many other multinationals and corporations are adopting this approach. Even Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has mentioned it, stating that he wanted a more “agile” economy.

Agile is the latest buzzword in IT software development. Traditional software development involved a more structured approach of sequential steps to build a product. A group of leading US software developers has now come up with the ‘‘Manifesto for Agile Software Development’’. Their approach focused on speed of development and being able to rapidly respond to change.

Since 2001, agile concepts have been adopted not only by software developers, but entire companies and industries. Apple, Google, Alibaba and many more have adopted agile. ANZ wants to create agile teams similar to the organisational structures in Spotify and Netflix.

According to the Business Insider, ANZ will be breaking up its Australian division into “tribes”, which are made up of “squads” of about 10 people. Staff from departments such as sales, risk, legal or technology could all end up working alongside one another, rather than being part of traditional “silos”.

An ANZ executive said of the project: “We’re moving the whole organisation to roughly 18 tribes, with 150 squads, and I’d like to think of that as 150 start-ups running. That’s 150 components of the organisation who all have autonomy and agility to adapt to customer need very, very quickly. That’s the benefit.”

The Finance Sector Union has raised concerns about this and its impact on workers. In fact, ANZ is only catching up with its rivals who have already started their agile transformation journey.

Ultimately, the essence of agile is to maximise workers’ output as fast as possible. Using concepts such as “time boxing”, where tasks need to be done strictly in the allotted time, and “scrum boards”, which show the tasks assigned to workers and the progress made on them, it requires a lot of training and a shift in mindset for workers.

However, despite the productivity and efficiency increases, recent research has shown that this approach has not always delivered what it has promised. One British study claimed that £37 billion was wasted each year on failed Agile IT projects.

In reality, the new fad of Agile practices being championed by so many CEOs is part of a long history of attacks on workers that have been happening since the industrial revolution. The reasons why this has come about and why it continues under capitalism are outlined in detail in Karl Marx’s Capital. In summary, the more that can be squeezed out of workers, while keeping their wages low, the greater the exploitation and the greater the profits.

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