Assuming Agile

If I would be granted a wish, I would choose to be freed from making assumptions and easy judgments (and maybe sometimes to shut up and listen).
The general assumption when starting with Agile is that it will solve the problems of speed, quality, eficciency… and it will boost performance by itself. It continues further by thinking that agile practices will make a perfect code, or that people will accept Agile as a natural way of thinking and doing business. Even further, we can say that the usual assumption is that daily meetings, visual (task) boards, backlog and small iterations make us agile. It will help, but it goes fairly beyond that. This assumptions lead towards many disappointments and stopping agile transformations. You may take a look at the transformation curve in the section about culture.
Once, I had lunch with colleagues from other company. Discussing the agile SW development, one of them said: “I have very low opinion about people doing Agile. I don’t know you, so I cannot tell.” He actually never tried agile practices and learned about the principles behind them. His (strong) statement was probably based on some previous observations, creating the assumption that the ‘agile gang’ actually escapes from doing the ‘real work’. It imprinted in his mind, so in general he was against Agile. Such an attitude prevented him to see the value that could possibly derive from it and it fairly blocked his need to learn about it.

Not making conclusions based on unconfirmed assumptions is a skill. It requires practice and an open approach with a fair dose of humbleness. Assuming agility will happen without learning and hard work is like swimming towards a distant shore without moving hands and legs.

You may take a look about 10 common fails with agile from TaskWorld:

Top 10 Agile Fails #infographic

Agile – Long Trip in a Short Strip

AgileTrip

The Hardest Thing – The Culture

“What is the culture in my company now?
How well is the culture aligned with Agile?
What problems can I expect due to misalignment?”

With these powerful questions Michael Sahota writes about cultural models in his book “An Agile adoption and transformation survival guide – Working with organizational culture“. To my taste, he well chose the William Schneider’s model illustrating an organizational culture:

SchneiderModel

Every company has a dominant culture with ingredients of other cultures, especially the neighboring ones. Diagonally located cultures rather collide than complement each other.

The agile culture resides on the left side of the diagram, supported by values like partnership, collaboration, trust, purpose, creativity, experimentation, diversity…

The control culture is characterized by the formal power, process, hierarchy, order, rules, stability, security, standardization…

The competence culture, to my opinion, can be a big trap for leaders and organizations transitioning to Agile. It suggests expertise, specialization, efficiency, craftsmanship, achievement, results, being the best…

Nothing is wrong with that. But, it is not about being the best – it is about becoming better every day. It is about sustaining the culture (and the structure) of constant learning and improving the organization as a whole. Then, the competences are a logical outcome and a beneficial consequence.

Specialization is valid. Becoming an expert and doing the good work is expected. However, if a team or other individual depends on us, our personal expertise, our information and our knowledge, we make the system fragile and vulnerable in a particular point/person. Without collaboration and cultivation, without horizontal sharing of information and learning together, we preserve the heroic culture, the culture of strongly self-oriented individuals and the culture of vertical communication. Here, the vertical communication means the interactions mainly towards supervisors and subordinates, rather than peers. Instead of concentrating the ‘power’ of knowledge in individuals, by sharing, we need to use and motivate every single beautiful brain in the organization and give out the best of it.
Agile principles make this trap visible. This trap is the real test for agile leaders in which, unfortunately, many fall.

The cultures clash in their values and behaviors, striving to prioritize and put different things in focus. The control culture is a culture of things that is still dominant in many organizations (see this post!), not just business organizations, but also social, society and governance institutions. Collaboration, together with Cultivation, is the culture of people, and if those two caltural characteristics prevail, Agile may reach the tipping point and cross the chasm on the agile transformation curve:

GMooreCurve2

The managers/leaders play the essential role in shaping the culture, not just adopting new methods, but rather becoming more adaptive for things to come. Stating this means we have to stay open for any change or surprise and care less about compliances. Therefore, a cultural shift needs a governance shift (people and processes) towards a dimension of distributed knowledge, distributed power and distributed decisions.