The Agile Bandwagon
Although it’s been around for a really long time, Agile is still the newcomer on the scene for some organisations. But like the snowball rolling down the hill – it’s been growing larger and gathering momentum for some time – (and picking up all kinds of shit along the way) attracting more attention and having a bigger impact as it covers more territory. And that’s where the metaphor probably should stop. Because the next thing that happens when something attracts attention and has impact is the big money-hungry players wake up and start noticing. And aside from being mowed down by a giant snowball of Agile, there’s no metaphor for this situation (although by all means let me know if you have one!).
Agile Transformations, Organisation-wide Agile, Business Agility …. we’re all there. We’re all constantly experimenting and evolving the ways to introduce Agile principles and values into organisations; moving the concepts of cross-functional teams, iterative workflows and continuous delivery of value into how a business works through all its layers, not just in tech or digital. Agile coaches are in the trenches, ensuring the underlying ‘why’ of Agile is embodied in the way people work. We work alongside teams and people on a daily basis.
It’s never easy, and the larger the organisation the more complex the whole situation can be.
This is where the big guys have emerged. Large global consultancies (you know who they are) with huge promises and armies of smart-suited millennials led by Agile ‘veterans’ are turning up ready to ‘roll out Agile’ across organisations. They’ve spotted the opportunity and they’ve got a formula and they’re ready to install Agile as a thing. A veneer of friendly language – ‘new ways of working’ ‘centers of excellence’ ‘the spotify model’ – hides an underlying fundamental lack of understanding of why Agile is a great thing.
Agile is a shift in mindset; you can’t install a mindset. Agile is inherently personal – in the way you learn about it, embody it and implement it within teams and organisations. There is no ‘one size fits all’ to a successful Agile model. There’s no automating an inherently human context. And this is where the big guys are going to mess it up for everyone.
Agile implemented as a formula is set up through a model of ‘move in, fuck shit up, move out’. The implementation is sold with a promise of impacts and outcomes, often of increased efficiencies and reduced headcount. Absolutely there will be an impact, absolutely there are outcomes, but not necessarily the ones that were anticipated. This is Agile as something that’s done ‘to’ an organisation rather than ‘with’. This is Agile as a commodity, a box-ticking exercise, an implementation of practices – without getting to a real understanding the context and/or the problem it’s there to solve.
Done this way, there’s a good chance Agile won’t solve your problems. It’s likely instead to build a wave of excitement and possibility, coupled with a heady dose of fear and uncertainty. Once that wave has passed, reality sets in – and the organisation is unlikely to be ready to support that reality.
Once the suits have flown out and moved onto their next big corporate gig, leaving little more than a stack of powerpoint decks behind and building on the much touted successful rollout they’ve just installed, it’s the local coaches who are left to deal with the actual human impact of Agile in the organisation. To coach and inspire the teams, help to identify what works or doesn’t work for organisations, and work alongside people to figure out that all important ‘how’ part of the ‘new ways of working’.
So if your organisation wants to introduce “New Ways of Working”, or to rollout Agile across the business – that’s amazingly wonderful. That’s an opportunity for an organisation to revitalise people, to be effective and motivated, to create an environment where people can shine. But to make that opportunity real and have a reasonably likelihood of success, step back, consider your context, find your purpose, understand your ‘why’ – and then work out ‘how’. ‘How’ in a way that will best suit you – from top to bottom and across all the business areas – what will work for you. And be completely open and honest with your people about it.
By all means get external support – but don’t forget to look to the people you already have, people who are likely to have quite a lot of knowledge about your business and potentially also about Agile. The best Agile adoption will be driven and owned by the people who work in your business already. Question hard the need for a big external team of suits to drive this on your behalf.
Agile works because it makes sense, but it takes work. Agile works when it’s introduced in context, when its introduction is co-created alongside the people that will be taking it forward and making it part of their lives. There is no template for Agile, there’s no Best Practice, and if that’s what you’re hearing – then question the source.