Stepping Out Of the Dark To Agile

Frida-Fridakahlo-Endure-Muchmore-Wethinkwecan-Cats-Meow-Skulls-Goodnight-Quote- (1)

So tired of all the darkness in our lives
With no more angry words to say
Can come alive
Get into a car and drive
To the other side

Getting to the other side of Agile is hard and wouldn’t it be great to get into a car and simply drive there.

Yes siree

I’ve talked about metaphors, Slow Boats to China. I look back and I think helping a team become Agile is one of the hardest things you can do. Here are some of my reflections

You’ll See Some Early Success 

Gartner talks about a Hype cycle in change projects. Initially there is high visibility and great expectations and excitement. You see energy, creativity and transparency and teaming. It feels like a high – your in a flow state.  The agile systems and practices help, the scrum process, daily stand-ups and the social contract all work in concert with one another provided you have as a key condition team members who are positive willing and committed.

You see early wins and everyone agrees it’s been a great success.

Focused on the right conditions, the freedom to decide the work is done, with no obvious roadblocks and with taciturn permission to get things done with a sense of urgency we should be set up right?

Right? Like No…

We expect to repeat those early wins over and over again but as we have reach the peak of inflated expectations and the team starts to learn what it really means to be transparent, what rigour and effort has to go into inspection and adaption – it can become confusing.

The upholding of the social contract and holding each other to account, can result in team members confronting deep mental models based on traditional thinking – it can be very uncomfortable. No one has asked this of them before and you will see people grappling, resisting or embracing this in their own way and time.

And Some Failures Don’t Mean We Are Failing   

Productivity and throughput will stall as the team is still forming. Add new team members during the early stages of forming can add additional complexity particularly if they don’t have previous agile exposure. Maybe the second and third sprints were a bit of fail, maybe you didn’t work on the high value work, or you were coming to grips with the whole sprint planning process and backlog – all this playing out against a back drop a team forming and probably storming.

Still …we fondly remember that first sprint and expect seeing results like right now and when we don’t get them we might denounce the team, or even abandon our transformation efforts as a failure or talk about derailment. We think of the high we achieved and we yearn for the flow state. We keep chasing the dragon

Show People What They Need to See to Understand  

Maybe the rest of the organisation isn’t agile and you’re an agile pocket. You work iteratively – biting off slices of the elephant that you need to transform – they work waterfall and expect to see large detailed plans. You show them the roadmap, how the backlog draws from the roadmap, the backlog is visible for everyone to see and you tell them what you’re working on in this Sprint. They’re still not comfortable maybe they’ll express they can’t understand the bigger picture, you show them the roadmap again, and the epics in the backlog – you give them a gaant chart. Their happy

In the early stages of adoption you’ll see the team naturally forming, ebbing and flowing and commonly there’s several storms, you might see the team break every single element of the social contract. This is where Agile frontloads every defect, hang up, insecurity and our true mental models are exposed. It’s in your face and you cannot hide. At this point you might see some natural self-selection as people decide Agile isn’t for them.

The coaching dynamic can change here too. Another much more experienced coach  told me the team he was working with, screwed up all the backlog items and chucked them in the bin. Try not to take this too personally.

Lyssa Adkins reminds us that we cannot coach anyone if their feet are pointed away from you and instead go where your wanted. Focus on those individuals in the team that do want it and are close to crossing over into the agile mind-set. You can build up this coalition of agilists and build the core strength of the team to help the others.

Getting to Agile Takes Time – It’s No Magic Instant Fix

Agile isn’t just a new process or methodology, but a completely different ideology–a different way of experiencing and being. Steve Denning says instead of an ideology of control with a focus on efficiency and predictability and detailed plans and internal focus, it’s an ideology of enablement, with a focus on self-organization, continuous improvement, an iterative approach. This takes time and practice.

Teams that may have early success can think they have mastered Shu (follow the rules) and move too quickly into Ha (break the rules). Things can regress pretty quickly and spectacularly in this context and disillusion can set it

And a shift in ideology isn’t a little fix.

Having Clarity of Roles is Key

Scrum has three roles. The Scrum Master, The Team and The Product Owner. A self-managing team especially in the early stages of adoption doesn’t mean they are equipped to prioritise their own backlog. We underestimated the role of the PO to provide that clarity and delegating the role to a peer in the team, didn’t work either because in this case the delegated PO was also a team member which resulted on context switching and role confusion. Looking back a simple mistake based on traditional thinking. It’s been cool though to see one team member step up and really flourish as a new Scrum Master and understand this role is more than running a stand up.

You’ll Need to Be Really Persistent 

Starting Agile is hard, really hard. The first few sprints might fall flat but that does not mean it’s not working. Not repeating those early successes doesn’t mean its failed. You will cock up sprint planning and work on the wrong things, you will make mistakes and slip back into traditional thinking. But if you are dedicated and persistent, you will get to the goal (and that goal far exceeds any losses/failures along the way). Denning says when the team really lands a sprint and has break through results when they get that first successful project, it is the same as Alexander Graham Bell inventing the telephone or Thomas Edison turning on the first light bulb.”

Choose Your Agile Partners Carefully 

There is a lot of people calling themselves Agile Coaches and not a lot of understanding of the role of an Agile Coach. Sometimes used interchangeably with a project manager.  Choosing your Agile partner is really important. My husband recently spent over 3 months carefully considering who he would partner with. The Agile Coach needs to have the experience but the type of person you are certain will leave the team in a better place.

Sometimes too you see a thin Agile veneer laid on top of traditional corporate hierarchy. In these cases, sometimes organisations are doing what they’ve always done; they’re just now calling it ‘Agile.’” It fails to deliver and then Agile is blamed. This makes me sad and maybe a little mad

But when you as a team make it through the difficult transition period, take the ideology and mindset to heart, and implement it on a consistent basis, not merely adding a veneer of words, then you will get the kind of results that make the slow boat worth it.

Are young but getting old before our time
We’ll leave the T.V. and the radio behind
Don’t you wonder what we’ll find
Steppin’ out tonight


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