Culture Shock


“I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”

We were a good ten minutes into the team meeting when the stranger was introduced. A coach? Did they just call themselves a coach? I’m listening but some of this stuff seems crazy. My mind drifts, who does this person think they are, they don’t know us. How on earth can we get anything done in a few weeks? A scrum? What’s a scrum? By the end of the hour it seemed like everything we’d always done was changing.

Agile scared me in 2005. That’s the truth. It’s strange to state this now given how deep Agile runs through me.

Looking back ten years later, I know why, it was the introduction. So many people that bring Agile into organizations forget something, something really important.

It’s not about us. Agile isn’t about those that practice it. The writers of the Agile Manifesto tried to tell us that right there in the first principle.

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

Agile is about providing value to our customers.

I’ll admit it, I’ve forgotten it too.

One time was really bad.

I’d gotten up at 4:30AM to drive from Boston to New York after a late night of prep work. A few of us were going down to work with researchers that had just joined the Watson Group and I had been asked to introduce them to Agile. The final agenda had gone out the night before with a surprise for me. Forty-five minutes. The first agenda had said ninety, the second was sixty, now I was down to just forty-five minutes. Take a third for questions and I really had thirty minutes. Not nearly enough time. I practiced my pitch over and over as I drove through western Mass, the inevitable Hartford traffic, all the way to Yorktown Heights.

The morning flies by and it’s suddenly my turn. I start in and am racing through stuff as I watch the clock on the wall. I’m talking faster than I planned. Ten minutes in and I start noticing shifts in body language. The bit about about daily standups seems to really bother that guy in the back. It’s at this moment that it hits me.

I’m the one telling them everything’s going to change.

I’m the stranger.

I had forgotten the very thing that had given me that bad feeling so many years ago. I had forgotten to tell them why.

That day in Yorktown fundamentally changed me.

Today, every presentation I give starts the same way.

“Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.”

First slide. Always.

Photo credit: me :-)

Photo taken at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in March of 2014.

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