On Agile maturity — or the art of patient obedience

In today’s Agile Malaysia meetup, we discussed about the challenges our company faces in “maturing” Agile. And these were the answers and some were typical:

  • Processes were installed without the culture and understanding to adapt.
  • Quit building discipline and consistency too soon. Just not patient enough.
  • Busy with putting out fires.

Instead of discussing about challenges, I would like to introduce some maturity models I shared with the small group that we split into.

One of the “models” (technically not) I often share with my team is the 3-stage Shu-Ha-Ri (守、破、離), which defines the phases of learning, by first absorbing the whatever being taught by the master, then challenging the comfort zone by making experiments through rule-breaking and integration with other thoughts, and finally becoming master of their own craft.

Another maturity model, which I did not share during the meetup, is the 3 types of Scrum: Type A runs within time boxes, Type B has flow established with work flowing beyond boundary of sprints, and Type C runs multiple overlapping Sprints, continuously delivering and improving at any time: hourly, daily, weekly, …

The last model is the Agile Fluency model by Diana Larsen and James Shore, which a team progresses from 1 star to 4 stars, by focusing on value (by practicing Scrum and Kanban techniques), to delivering and capturing value consistently with low defects (by mastering XP techniques), and further advances to rapid validated learning of business (through Lean Startup), and ultimately becomes a world-class team/organization that adopts to or invent radical way of working .

I was asked at which phase my teams are currently at. Throughout the past 3 years in ServiceRocket, we managed to transform some teams from anarchistic to 2 stars (or perhaps more), by focusing not just on practices but culture (such as the culture of learning). Frankly, we aim to be a 3-star team and actively learn from world-class organizations at perhaps 4-star fluency.

If you compare these 3 models (and perhaps even with the infamous process-driven CMMI), you can notice that they more or less share a similar pattern transforming a team or organization from chaotic to disciplined and ultimately optimized and independent. However, as some of us acknowledged during the meetup, many teams confuse themselves into thinking that being anarchistic is to be autonomous and being non-methodological is to be independent.

Maybe, the idiom “jumping the gun” could be applied to low-performing teams that wish to sprint at a high velocity but lack the discipline to train and practice.