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Reflections on Agility. Agile or Agility? What are we really talking about?

7
Dec

Reflections on Agility. Agile or Agility? What are we really talking about?

Cheetah Agility

Let me tell you a story

It seems like yesterday (2001) when all this agile and scrum stuff emerged on the scene however we have also seen the market explode with a large number of people going by the title “Agile Coaches”.  Experts in Agile. The new rock stars of project management.

We have seen the word “agile” being used to describe everything and anything to do with Scrum, XP or Kanban. People generally think that these various approaches to achieving agility came out of “agile” but it is a general misunderstanding or misinterpretation. These various approaches came out of the desire to achieve more agility so you do Scrum to increase your agility. “Agile” is used as a catch all phrase or word to describe some of the things we do to increase our agility.

Companies and recruiters advertise and look for “Agile Coaches” but do they fully understand how to help the client achieve more value by taking on the right Coach?

To shed more light on the two words “Agile and Agility”, I love the blog by Pragmatic Dave one of the original signatories to the Agile Manifesto http://pragdave.me/blog/2014/03/04/time-to-kill-agile/  He goes into a common sense discussion on the use of the word “agile” and how it has become such a misused and misunderstood word.

I copy and quote directly from Dave’s blog below;

START

“Let’s abandon the word agile to the people who don’t do things.

Instead, let’s use a word that describes what we do.

Let’s develop with agility

  • You aren’t an agile programmer—you’re a programmer who programs with agility.
  • You don’t work on an agile team—your team exhibits agility.
  • You don’t use agile tools—you use tools that enhance your agility.

It’s easy to tack the word “agile” onto just about anything. Agility is harder to misappropriate.

And that’s important—you can buy and sell labels. Attend a short course, and suddenly you can add a label to your job title. But you can’t buy experience—you can only earn it.

And let’s protect our investment

Ultimately, what we do trumps what we call it. But good words help us communicate effectively.

We’ve lost the word agile. Let’s try to hang on to agility. Let’s keep it meaningful, and let’s protect it from those who would take the soul of our ideas in order to sell it back to us”.

Back to the Basics

Here is how to do something in an agile fashion:

What to do:Find out where you are

  • Take a small step towards your goal
  • Adjust your understanding based on what you learned
  • Repeat

How to do it:

When faced with two or more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier.

And that’s it. Those four lines and one practice encompass everything there is to know about effective software development. Of course, this involves a fair amount of thinking, and the basic loop is nested fractally inside itself many times as you focus on everything from variable naming to long-term delivery, but anyone who comes up with something bigger or more complex is just trying to sell you something

END

Agility has been around way before 2001, agility describes what I and many people have always done. Agility forces me to think in ways to measure outcomes against the backdrop of a robust backlog hence why Evidence Based Management (EBMgt) and Agility Path Tool from Scrum.Org really works for me. I encourage you to take a deep hard look at EBMgt, Agility Path and Scaled Professional Scrum (Nexus), if you are serious about your transformation and scaling or more importantly if you are interested in improving enterprise agility.

Nothing makes me chuckle more than when I hear companies say we are doing “agile” and when I ask them the question….Do you measure? 99.9% say Errrrrrrm NO. We just know things have got better, it’s a gut feeling or sometimes they say….our people are happier. Come on guys get a grip, how the hell can you show you care about people’s hard earned money or their ‘Investment’ if you don’t measure?

Imagine for a moment in your personal capacity, for every effort and pound you put into anything wouldn’t you want to know what value or results you get? It’s totally mind boggling. Wouldn’t you like to know your return on your investment (ROI) or how well your “agile” transformation and scaling is progressing? It’s like playing Football or any sport and saying the score board is not important. Ridiculous? However, this is happening in even the most intelligent organisations.

Get meaningful metrics that actually matter.

Imagine someone comes to your company and wants to sell you agile;

Consultants: I will make you agile or help you become more agile

CEO: Ok. How much will it cost me?

Consultants: It’s £1.5 Million and it’s going to take 9 months.

CEO: What do I get from investing £1.5 Million? How do we know when we are done?

You can be an “agile coach” and not measure but if you are focused on increasing personal, team and enterprise agility then you will be forced to measure and work with meaningful metrics that gives you a clear indication of how well you and your client is performing. You need to clearly map out the investment and the value gained from every effort and Pound (£) you put into your project or into your organisation transformation.

Are people afraid to measure or don’t really want to measure because it might show that all the noise they are making about “agile” in their organisation is actually not really paying off (value/£) or perhaps once you start measuring then you see all the cracks n warts n all. Recent Chaos Report (2015) says that 61% of projects are agile ONLY in name. This is deep and not surprising but at least now we know. Surely it’s better to see the cracks so that you can fix them. Do we not encourage transparency, empirism and feedback in Scrum so that we can continuously improve?

 It is said that every new idea goes through several stages. 

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.  By Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher (1788 – 1860)

Since the signing of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, we have seen a proliferation of organisations; consultants and writers bombard our senses with all things “agile” both good and bad (Stage One), all those new to “agile” or in the Waterfall / Prince2 / Traditional Management (Command and control) camp have opposed it for years (Stage Two) and finally both Private and Public Sector organisations have adopted or starting to adopt the word and in a few cases (I think) some have adopted the values that inspired the Manifesto (Stage Three) however on the maturity scale it seems we still struggle between what’s on the packaging and what’s in the container or between substance and form. It’s easy to do “agile” because it means so many things to so many people but it’s very challenging to help organisations increase their agility. Agility requires a lot more discipline and practice. Agility is simple to understand and describe.

I have worked for many years as a business and technology change consultant with Development teams, Senior managers and Executives, helping them to increase their agility (am also a failed developer but an awesome Scrum Master, Product Owner and a technology junkie). My experiences span from the shop floor to the board room hence the reason why “Agility” has always been a way of life for me although I hasten to add that it has been bloody difficult, fun and rewarding but nothing beats the experience.

It’s hard to coach an Executive from experience if you have never been an Executive or walked in the shoes of an Executive  or If you have never been on a Board with other CxOs or had to frequently prepare for the big fights over budget allocation. Can you coach Board members if you have never been a Board member?

Can one be truly effective as an Enterprise agility coach with no prior experience of leading an organisation with hundreds and thousands of employees? Is it even possible to be a great Scrum Coach if you have not worked as a Professional Scrum Master or Professional Product Owner for many years? Have you ever put an idea to market and seen it fail and then you recover? I have been in all of these situations hence why I can advise or speak with some authority. A combination of experiences and capabilities enable you to successfully take an organisation up the path to greater agility.

Life coaching

A seasoned agility coach has reached a happy medium in life having faced up to their own demons and hopefully vanquished them. You cannot be an Alex Ferguson or a José Mourinho over night. It takes many years of practice underpinned by a powerful desire to succeed.

Can you truly be an “Agility” coach without  Life coaching? Can you transform others when you have not been transformed?

Muhammed Ali said “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

and another powerful Ali quote;

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

I leave you with a good old English saying…..If you are not measuring, then you cannot manage. I kinda agree with Pragmatic Dave….Long live agility. Agile is kinda dead.

Let’s focus on doing Professional Scrum.