Darn hard to switch to Agile delivery?

Or … an integral take on why we can’t just-do-it?

I am borrowing definition of integral from Ken Wilber’s AQAL — Integral Map. In practical terms it means that I will speculate on the answer to the title question looking through 4 aspects of all beings, things and all phenomena (known as 4 quadrants).

Let me start with what’s inside of me — internal reasons on individual level

As cool and hippy Agile practice sounds and promotes itself, in reality, it is a hard work. With its 3 pillars of transparency, continuous inspection and constant adaptation to unfolding reality, there are not that many places to play office hide & seek any more. Forget about “I would deliver that, but corporate guidelines are blocking my next move”. Healthy Agile practice demands from me that surfacing and negotiating blocking corporate guidelines is my next move. Forget about “Chill dude, the milestone is in 3 months, and for the first month specifications won’t be ready and managers won’t bother us till the very last moment. And then we prove that provided clarity and detail level is not good enough to deliver anyway”. In healthy Agile team regardless whether I am a programmer, a tester or a rollout specialist, my duty in such a case is to initialize task “Add clarity and details so the task is immediately actionable — Ready for Development”. This is exactly what I will openly communicate I will be doing and treat as the 1st priority. Am I ready to take ownership of delivering requested solution? Will I take responsibility to move things forward regardless of circumstances? Am I ready to work with discipline and share all successes with members of the team? Will I request what I need to do my job right, and by doing it, take responsibility of the world I intend to live in?

From me, let me take you to all of us — internal reasons on collective level

I’m talking here about working culture in our departments. By culture I mean general set of attitude, believes, rules, values, assumptions, reactions, preferences, habits, abilities and achievements. Are behaviours of our colleagues aligned with Agile values? If not, will we risk choosing to do something different, instead of being carried away by “we are always doing things that way — the sooner you get used to, the better”. Are we ready to withstand social pressure of business as usual and behave-like-others-or-you-will-have-hard-time-here…? Are good achievements of Agile teams noticed and celebrated? Recognized? Appreciated? What if at the beginning they are not? What if executives are not even using word Agile, and reward only those crews that reached KPIs that are irrelevant to Agile (like on scope, on milestones, even if end users hate and don’t want to use the solution)? Will we still want to be a weird Agile team?

We are hired to fill well cut and described role — external reasons on individual level

The role and the job description which we enact, often becomes a belief that this is who we are. “I am an external tester” (which means I don’t talk to an end customer). “I am a business analyst” (obviously, I don’t write any code), “I’m a SAP programmer” (which means I won’t look at Oracle database script). Healthy Agile practice needs us to shed all external labels that limit and narrow all possible roles that we could allow ourselves to take, when a need arises. Agile approach needs us to become human beings again, capable of doing everything that is essential to gather around a common purpose of helping other human beings to succeed at their goals. Isn’t it why they pay us at work in the first place? Furthermore, it needs us to truly care about what their goal is, ask for it, understand it, validate it and constantly ask ourselves whether what we are doing right now gets us closer, or away, from that goal. “No matter how far you have gone on the wrong road, turn back” is the behaviour that you need to impersonate, despite your official role. Are you ready to care for other people? Even if the beneficiaries will not reward you immediately and directly?

Let’s close the guesswork by focusing on a context where all this is happening — external reasons on collective level

Order. Systems. Policies. Regulators. HR, Finance, Security, Architecture, Law … A group of people becomes an organization when we, as participants, agree and respect the structure, procedures and policies that we recognize are helping us to reach our goals in an organized way. The most common metaphor that we use for organizations is a machine. A machine that we design, structure, tune and fill with resources, so it can churn out desired products. There is no much place for irrationality, intuition, hunches … there is demand for professionalism, measurement, facts and … being a good cog in the machine. Healthy Agile practice chokes on this metaphor. It prefers to see organizations as a living organism, which constantly evolves to adapt to changing circumstances. Brain is not a king any more … there is place for emotions, intuition, experiments, fun. Are you ready to be a living body part surrounded by and often attached to a cold machine? Are you ready to live in a world of a constant change and continuous evolution?

Many good arguments not to go there, right? Even worse, you probably know more reasons that stop you personally, which I don’t, my dear reader. Anyway, those above might be good enough not to even try Agile delivery.

Despite obstacles, why you might want to involve yourself anyway?

Happily, mentioned impediments are not strong enough for all of us. Despite the odds, some years ago, I decided to be the change I want to see in the World. Agile way resonated very strongly in me in 2006, when I was signing Agile Manifesto. I kept and keep introducing and living Agile values day after day, despite I had plenty of good reasons to give this practice up. Are you curious whether I benefited from it in a corporate world? The answer is YES … however, probably not as you think. I wasn’t moving up the corporate ladder (there is no Global Head Scrum Master role yet). I wasn’t receiving rewards for high performance (delivery on time and quality is what is being expected from us for a base salary). I wasn’t recognised as a role model to follow (being Agile in traditional command-and-control structures makes many people very upset). What was it then? Why I like it so much? What I indeed received from being Agile at work is: … thanks to continuous improvement I approached excellence at every role I was in (programmer, business analyst, project manager, product owner … Scrum Master). I got contentment from a purposeful job well done. Lots of fun, empowerment, passion, innovation, appreciation, team work, fellowship, achievement, aliveness, support, openness, creativity and, what’s the most important for me at this stage of my life, good challenge, and growth so quick, that I’m having sleepless nights trying to integrate it. Agile practice returned purpose and meaning to my work life. And probably, the most rewarding: numerous occasions of pure joy when I was hearing feedback from external teams, teammates and customers (also internal) about positive impact I had on their lives (yes, they DO notice). Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY — I would do it again. Only better…

And what about tangible recognition? It arrived, however, with a delay, many detours and mysterious “coincidences”. It will become more direct one day, when as society we will be ready for it … soon. Agile organizations are on their way :)