Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Agile Change is Hard

Loads of people are engaged in some form of "Transformation." I sometimes think people latch on to that word because, well, it sounds more impressive and has less baggage than the word they really mean - Change.

For example - Agile "Transformation."

I've worked with teams that have done that T thing. I've worked with teams where it has gone really, really well. I've tried to work with teams where resistance was the underlying theme from managers all down to the most recent hire.

In my experience (this could just be me, after all there are loads of "coaches" and "experts" out there who can and will tell you differently) "Transformation" sounds better and because of that they can charge more money.

"Agile" has become a catch-all word to describe work done in small increments toward a specific purpose. Sometimes, I find that the "small increments" part is optional for many organizations.

They'll take the ritual labels, slap them on meetings or stuff they are already doing and POOF! They are now Agile! And they'll do pizza and t-shirts and motivational posters to emphasize the point.

Except, this isn't a change, or a "transformation" in any way. It is codswollop.

They'll hold meetings and send out lengthy diatribes in the form of emails from the "facilitators"  or "change agents" on things like "safe spaces" and "fail fast" and other catchy phrases. And then turn around and insist delivery metrics be met, at the least. More likely they'll raise the minimum standards fairly dramatically because "Agile" (and Scrum in particular) will "make" teams deliver product faster. So they should be checking stuff in faster and getting work and projects done faster. Somewhere in there, they'll likely be some level of criticism, delivered harshly (because they are being "open and honest") on how people did "everything wrong" and how their manager would have done it. And then they'll follow the same production implementation process they have since COBOL was the hot new language.

This isn't change either. It is more codswollop.

The hard part about any kind of change, Agile or otherwise, is not the external mechanics. It is not "doing daily standups" and it is not "increment planning" or "retrospectives" or any of the other labelled activities and rituals that many not-quite-agile organizations embrace, by relabeling activities they already do.

The hard part is sitting down and doing the really challenging work of looking at the organization, as a whole, and asking hard questions around why do you want to change?

Of course, the hard part about THAT, is each person needs to take a long, hard, honest look at themselves, their beliefs, work habits, intentions, goals, dreamsn and desires. Then looking at how that fits in with their team and the broader organization.

For those who have never stared into the abyss of themselves, this can be a terrifying prospect.

That may be why so many organizations settle for codswollop. It is easier to swallow than the actual medicine to make change happen.