One does not simply become Agile

Five things that are hard to say (and harder to do) in Agile

Suddenly, everybody wants to do Agile. Companies are urged to “implement” a new methodology that guarantees them to deliver faster. They want to do Agile because Facebook, Spotify or Google are doing that. Or because the benefits that VersionOne’s State of Agile Report explains: Project visibility, improve productivity, better time to market. Or simply, because the thing they are doing now, doesn’t work well.

Understanding what is Agile is easy. But actually, being Agile is not. During 7 great years, I have been trying to become Agile, and this are the things that as an Agile Coach are hard to say.

We are persons, not resources

The use of the word resources was inherited from a factory model, where the people can be replaced like a part of a machinery. The boss only needs to train another person to do the same repetitive task. The relationship between the resource and the result is linear. Want more? Add more resources.

But in Agile, we think that people are creative, the work is more alike than an artist or a craftsman than a construction engineer. We are not a resource to be assessed and managed in MS Project. We are intelligent persons who want to create something that changes the world. We want to have ownership and liberty on what we love. We need trust.

In my experience as an Agile Coach, I am confident that the people of software development are passionate and noble. I know that the challenges are overcome with technology, continuous learning and teamwork. I have witnessed teams that overcome difficulties and were proud of what they created, of the impact they done to the society. I have known junior programmers that in a few months not only deliver as a senior programmer, but they are compromised and motivated by clean architecture, beautiful code or amazing teams.

Treating people as resources is convenient. With the “power” assigned in the organizational chart, it is very tempting as a manager to fall into a “I say and you do” way of working. For the boss, it’s easier to tell than to convince. And for the workers are more comfortable to obey than to question, to propose to challenge the status quo.

Agile is not fast

For the companies that want to start working in an Agile way, one of the main reasons for doing it is to deliver everything faster but in a predictable way. Then, when the Agile Coach explains about the importance of deliver small chunks of product to the final users and reflect if they are giving them the right value they nod understanding. But the final date… when is going to be? In eight months, rather than a year, right?

The ability to deliver frequently requires a high level of professionalism that includes a mix of team work (to deliver the whole slice and support each other), technical practices of quality, architecture and continuous delivery and a continuous improvement mindset (Kaizen). The efficiency is more related to removing impediments, fail fast and automate than just work more hours or faster.

Delivering these small chunks is what provide us one of the most valuable things that agile gives: to adapt to change based on feedback. We adapt because our main focus is deliver value with a minimum effort.

Agile is not a thing that only dev teams do

It is very common that development teams are the first that want to adopt Agile. They started with Kanban or Scrum and some others high level practices like continuous delivery. Suddenly, something starts working more efficiently and smooth on the team. But sadly, we cannot deliver because the marketing campaign is not ready; or the sellers were not trained; or the production machines were not installed correctly.

That’s why a lot of people is talking about Organizational Transformation.

“The most profound business challenge we face today is how to build organizations that can change as fast as change itself”
Gary Hamel’s keynote at the 6th Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna, Austria

Does that means that all the company should do scrum? I don’t think so. I think is more related to have the willing to collaborate on breaking silos, to have sharing understanding on what is valuable to the user, to be willing to make experiments. I think agile is a mindset and that is what all the people in an organization should have.

Agile is a mindset

If we implement Scrum or any agile practices and tools without understanding why we do it, we have the risk of not only fail, but make the Agile stuff the next evil empire, as some others process and methodologies.

If change is hard, change the mindset is harder. We could be falling in what is called “Cargo Cult”: we do all the ceremonies without considerate what they are aiming to. Is like when we do a daily standup without synchronize effort and collaboration of all the team. All the people works but do not finish anything.

This mindset includes:

  • Empower people, instead of control them. Management 3.0 talks about the importance of management and how leaders can feel safe in their attempt of doing it.
  • Experiment safely
  • Learn constantly while we are trying to solve problems

That is why an organization must have spaces, patience and efforts to expose all the people to this mindset and be them who lead the change.

There are no recipes in Agile

This could be the most frightening thing about Agile, even when we have our first triumphs. Because of the complexity, we are unable to cut and paste win formulas or standardize process. A practice or metric that we use, can’t be used on different teams or even worst, on the same team but with different challenges.

But for me, having no recipes is one of the most exciting things about agile. Because we are constantly out of our comfort zone and force us to learn, to be creative.

My (first) conclusion

As an Agile practicer, we must learn how to be resilient and dance with the system. Some authors name the change as transformation or evolution. But…

There are two things that everyone hate: change and the way the things are

In my next post, I will talk about my transformation. For now, I only want to say that being agile is the harder thing I ever done. But also is the more satisfying. Being agile is a constant challenge. And I have a security net: the agile community. Their enthusiasm and creativity are contagious. They learn by leaving the values and the practices. They are generous teachers and caring partners. Everything while we are having fun.

For you, what is the best thing of being Agile?

PS: English is not my native language. Please feel free to give me feedback :)