Sunday, 17 July 2016

We Tried Agile and got Nothin’

Anyone who knows me first hand in or from the corporate world knows I’m first and foremost an Agilist. Whatever my title is, at my core I’m an Agilist. That means I live and breathe the principles of what it means to be Agile, and I’ve done so for quite some time now. Sure, I can do and follow traditional practices when it’s called for, but when it isn’t it tears my heart out. When I write ‘Agile’ it’s not a typo either; anyone can be ‘agile’ without being ‘Agile’ and some companies out there may still be doing it very well.
A conversation I recently had with a senior R&D manager included her saying “there are a thousand ways” to be agile. And while that is true there are just as many or more ways to pretend to be agile and not reap any of the benefits that exist by truly being Agile. The following platitudes are a few examples to highlight why some companies have ‘adopted’ or ‘embraced’ agile practices and are still barely or no further along in enhancing productivity, quality or engaged teams.

The companies and teams who say they’re taking a ‘blended’, ‘modified’ or ‘hybrid’ approach to Agile have most certainly adopted something out of a book or webinar on Agile but at their core they’re still 100 percent pure waterfall. I’ve lost track of the number of examples I’ve witnessed or read about that show how much this is the case, and how many billions of corporate dollars are lost every year as a result. It’s enough to almost make a grown businessman cry.

A very wise uncle of mine a long time ago shared with me Mark Twain’s definition of an expert, “someone from out of town.” I’ve always remembered that and been saddened within my career that so many others did not have access to uncles like mine. How that applies here is when companies choose preferred employees with strong influencing skills to attend a conference or something on Agile. That in and of itself can be very good, but only if those same employees are personally interested in the topic have something to lose if they don’t adapt to and adopt to what they learn. Similarly, if you’re going to spend budget money to send those people somewhere, please, please, please make sure it’s from someone who is actually qualified and certified to do that. For example, someone with CST after their name would be good. About a year ago I was speaking with someone in a team lead role at a company who went with the lowest bid. That trainer told the attendees that testers should “go for coffee” while the developers plan the backlog. That company has been adopting agile for about six years now and still hasn’t seen one quantifiable improvement in how they manage projects or products.

Too many times I’ve heard executives and senior managers talk how important this all is to them and in the next breath say the equivalent of ‘find me something I can call agile that means I don’t have to change anything but gets me all the benefits’. Too many times I missed the chance to say ‘you need to go big or go home’ even if you go in small steps. After all, you must learn to crawl before you can walk, and you must learn to walk before you can run. I seriously doubt they would’ve listened anyway. Speaking to those people any more than I have is like spitting into the wind, and has earned me and many others the label and back-handed compliment of being a “purist” among those same people. I don’t take the insults or suggestions that I’m immature in the business world too seriously though, and I hope those others feel likewise. I’ve already empirically proven time and time again that doing Agile as intended will reap the benefits many once though impossible. And to offer some inspiration for some of those others who are only now becoming inspired by Agile, even out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom. Those other naysayers and belittlers on the other hand will never envision let alone earn the ability to achieve anything close to the benefits reaped by other companies who do embrace Agile for all its worth. They and their companies may even lament one day ‘if only we had known!’ Sad thing is for them and all the others they were supposed to lead, they did.

Finally, like any activity, being Agile takes practice to get good at it. Some would even say 10,000 hours of practice. So send people on courses, attend conferences, hire a consultant, whatever you need to do to grab that ‘Agile’ brass ring. Just don’t keep doing what you’ve always been doing except now with some agile term on it that sounds good. You won’t reap the promised benefits (no matter how many excuses are forthcoming) and it tears the heart out of us who really care about this stuff.

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