Understanding Before Leaping to Agile

I wrote about establishing goals for your Agile adoption recently in a post called: Thinking Before Leaping to Agile  but, clearly, it takes more than having goals to be successful.  If only it were that easy right?

Understanding where you want to go (goals) is a major factor for success for both you and your organization.  There are other factors as well.  In this post, I want to talk about realizing what an Agile adoption means and understanding it well enough to know that 1) it’s not easy and 2) it takes far more than you think it will from every.single.person. in your organization and 3) you will never know everything there is to know about Agile.  If you ever saw the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” maybe you’ll remember the scene where Wesley Snipes says to Woody Harrelson (Jimi Hendrix is playing on the radio)  “Look man, Your can listen to Jimi but you can’t hear him. There’s a difference man. Just because your listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.” and I’m reminded of this quote quite a lot when I work with people leading Agile adoptions.

You can read a LOT about Agile.  There are books, blogs, web sites and white papers galore out there.  And they’re all great sources of information but reading all of them – even being able to quote them – doesn’t mean you understand, really understand.  Agile isn’t something that only touches IT.  Your business, operations, legal, compliance, marketing and human resources departments will all be touched, in some way, by an Agile adoption.  What’s great about Agile is there’s nothing prescriptive about it.  What’s difficult about Agile is there’s nothing prescriptive about it.  There’s no guidebook so understanding the application of Agile values and principles isn’t clear cut and you and the people who work for you will be figuring it out and learning together.  You won’t have all the answers and neither will the people who work for you and that’s OK.  How an organization goes about transforming to Agile is as unique as a fingerprint.

This will be a change (for the better in my humble opinion) and as a good friend of mine once said “Change is hard.”  Organizations spend years, decades even, building the structures, processes and culture they have and Agile will challenge and change every one of them.  What takes years to build and create doesn’t just vanish overnight and you will be surprised at how hard people hold on to it all.  It’s known, familiar and probably is perfectly adequate.  But, remember those goals you laid out?  Those won’t happen by staying the course and doing the same things.

Insanity:  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, however, I was told recently the first appearance of it is actually in an AA manual.  Regardless, it’s a good quote.

When you understand the implications of the change you will be asking for, it puts you in a position to anticipate and appreciate the difficulty of what your people are doing or trying to do.  It will help you be empathetic to what your people are going through.  It will help you lead your people through the change because you will know what it is you’re inviting them to do and you will be able to be transparent and up front about the challenge.  Being up front and transparent will help build trust.

So, how do you even begin to understand what an Agile adoption entails?  How can you really “hear Jimi”?  The very best thing you could do is be on an Agile team.  That’s probably not something you’re in a position to do….  The next best thing you can do, in addition to reading everything you can get your hands on, is to talk to people who have experience in Agile.  There are sure to be some people close to you who are knowledgable.  Go and speak with them.  Ask them what they liked, what they didn’t like, what was difficult, what are the top three things that would have made it easier, what are the top three things that would have made them happier.  Then, talk to people outside your organization.  If there are bloggers or authors whose writing and thoughts are interesting to you, send them an e-mail.  Ask them if they would be willing to give you an hour of their time to speak to you.  You will be shocked at how open and willing this community is to helping you.  Then, once you have their ear, ask them to tell you everything they think you should know about adopting Agile in your organization.  Ask them the three things they wish organizations would do before and during the shift to Agile.  Finally, speak to some consultants – big and small – and when you find one that listens to you, asks you lots of questions and speaks in a way that resonates with you and reflects understanding of your organization and situation, hire them.

You won’t be able to understand everything possible about Agile.  And, I’ll be honest, there isn’t anyone out there who does.  Agile champions continuous learning and improvement and taking the steps above gets you on your own, personal learning journey before you jump in to a HUGE organizational learning journey.  You will start to think about your processes, structures and culture differently.  You will begin to see areas where small tweaks could yield big benefits and you will also see where you need to completely overhaul what’s in place today.  Understanding will give you the foundation you need to look at things honestly and evaluate not only how “Agile” they are or aren’t but, how everything will help you reach the goals you have defined.  It will also make it easier for you to say “I don’t know” which is a powerful, trust building statement.  Now, you will be learning and figuring it all out with your people…creating new processes, structures and culture.  Ready?

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