Being clear on what is *not* Agile

Many organizations today are undergoing Agile Transformation and they are in different stages of the journey. While the decisions of going Agile are being made at the Leadership level, it is not clear at the teams and management level why this decision is being made. Hence both the Management and the Teams would make their own assumptions of why they need to follow Agile. One of the common themes that I have experienced across the organizations is the lack of understanding of what Agile really is, how would it help them. It is important to being clear atleast on what Agile is *not* and some of the common myths on the transformation process.

Myth#1: Agile is a set of standards like SEI-CMM

A lot of organizations still believe that “Agile” is a set of rules or standards like ISO 9001 and SEI-CMM Level 5. Hence, they think Agile Coaches know this rule book and are more like auditors who check for compliance. Where-as, Agile in contrast is basically a set of values and principles that talks more about maximizing business value and minimizing waste. How the teams and organizations achieve it is through various frameworks that is available. It is left to the design and discretion of the organizations to decide how they achieve Agility. The job of Agile Coach is to help them in that decision making by educating them on the options and asking right questions to contextualize the situation.

Reality: Agile is about aligning with the set of values and principles and not a standard methodology that needs to be complied to

Myth#2: We are already Agile because we have started using Jira and conduct daily Scrum

Whenever the organizations start Agile Transformation, a lot of them adopt new tools and techniques. They believe that is what is going to make them Agile. I have heard a lot of them say that we are using JIRA or Rally and hence we are already Agile. Or another thing that I often hear is – “We have daily Scrum calls, what more do we need?”. The point about Agile is that the teams or organizations that practice Agile do not necessarily arrive. They are always on a continuous improvement journey. Tools are only tip of the iceberg called culture. Culture Iceberg consists of Business Outcomes -> Tools -> Language -> Practices -> Beliefs -> Values. Most of the Agile Transformations focus on Tools, Language and Practices leaving other components untouched. This results in only cosmetic changes and no real benefits for the organizations. Working on all the aspects of the culture results in real and sustainable change.

Reality: Cultural change is more important than usage of new tools and techniques

Myth#3: The Agile Coach is the one who is fully responsible for converting the team to Agile

Leadership and Cultural change are inseparable. No cultural change is possible without the involvement, participation and support from the Leadership group. One of the anti-patterns in the industry is that the Agile transformations were aimed at only teams. The role of Leadership was only to support transformation in words but not in deeds. And they would designate Agile Coach to do all the necessary changes without really showing any involvement. A team would always see an Agile Coach as an external person and his/her influence would be limited. Where-as the employees would always learn and adopt the behaviours and thinking from their Leaders. Their influence is not only long standing but also impacts quickly. Hence Leadership participation in the transformation program would impact the employees much more quickly and would yield quicker results.

Reality: Leadership role modelling has a stronger influence than Agile Coaching

Myth#4: Agile is only applicable for development teams

Agile transformations would always target one or two units of a much larger team. Like applying the same with the US teams but not addressing their India team or working only with the development team and not including the Quality Assurance team or including both Dev and QA but not including the infrastructure team. Every individual and every sub-team would be part of a larger system. It becomes imminent to include all sub systems for the transformation else it results in sub-optimization or it might show improvement in some metrics for a team, but organization as a whole would not progress by much. Hence, systems thinking becomes imperative when it comes to scoping the transformation.

Reality: Systemic change is more important than just a team transformation

Myth#5: Implementing Agile would make our lives harder and there would be more work pressure

When Agile is treated as a set of policies and set of rules that must be complied to, the team would hardly see any value out of it but do things just to satisfy the auditors. They see coaches more as Auditors and less as someone who really care for them and can help them. Another misconception when they hear the word iterative development is that they think that the amount of work that they do in the matter of 3 or 4 months must be squeezed in 3 or 4 weeks, which is not the case at all. When they understand the art of slicing the work as user stories, they understand that Agile actually makes their job simpler and also meaningful.

Reality: Agile is more people oriented and promotes team autonomy

Similarly, the teams would also have assumptions on the process of transformation like the following:

  1. This is something that is imposed on us and hence we just need to do things on surface to satisfy some egos.
  2. Delivery is more important, and these initiatives are eventually going to die down
  3. The consultant is paid to run this so he/she will do all the heavy lifting. And our work as a team is only cosmetic.
  4.  Coaching is about training. They are all theory and idealistic.

Hence it becomes extremely important to address some of these hidden apprehensions about Agile and the Transformation process before starting on the journey. Usually these are the reasons why most of the transformations to do not get a head start and are stuck for a long time. Clearing the air on these would help create more buy-in from all the necessary participants make significant progress.

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