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Agile Transformation – Does it have to be Disruptive?

Agile transformation is the new “thing”, most software delivery businesses are trying to get a grip on. There’s a divide in opinion, facts and politics around it. Many running after the “credit” they get in changing a thing or two to get their names in the list of contributors, which may be soon converted into a tombstone. Others are combining the best practices, changing processes overnight and rebuilding culture to support the sudden changes. Everyone wants a piece of the action but the grave consequences are affecting the business they represent. Why? Because everyone expects it to happen faster, disruptive and trying to change things overnight which wasn’t changed for decades.

Unfortunately the message delivered to them reads like this – “Move into agile methods and you can get more products delivered in the same time”.

 

The most underrated fact around these, when we talk about “Agile” is –

“Agile methods will not double your productivity, in fact it will slow you down to begin with. Agile principles are about providing the sense of creating the most valuable product first.”

The above fact is ignored a lot of time and rouge consultants starts selling “Agile” promising more productivity in compared to Waterfall. Terms get thrown from all sides to the person responsible for budget and a chain of middle management roles wait patiently to get a cut. Members who are not supporting the “movement” either receives a calendar invite from HR or get clinically radicalised to the new religion “Agile”. Why are we trying to do Agile? No idea.

Disruption = Difference in Opinion

 

.If this difference in opinion is not resolved, you can never become agile as it depends on the organisation maturity in every aspect. Reason why many of us heard the phrase “Culture change” thrown at us during an agile transformation. A new bread of management leads the bandwagon towards a belief that doing agile will resolve all problems, improve output and finish project early. But here’s a subtle difference which establishes the Value to the business –

Output ≠ Outcome

 

Outcome may or may not be an intended feature, it can be a lesson which we learn from a failure in an iteration. Some might wonder – “What’s the value of this lesson from a failure which is not generating any revenue?” Well, as an example, a failure can teach us how ridiculous a feature is to begin with, so we don’t invest in future iterations of the feature. Hence reducing the risk of creating a worthless product based on the failed iteration which can be a short term success and a long term burden for a business.

Agile transformation, hence, should reflect a sense of purpose of what we are doing and WHY we have to do it. If, as an organisation we are unable to share the big picture to all employees, there is no way we can be agile in a distant future. Agility is not about implementing a framework or method or tool in place and hope for the best. It’s about self evaluation as a company to learn what we can or cannot do, accepting the limits and exposing the barriers which stops us from being agile. We execute, learn and improve.

The best agile transformations are gradual, slow and have a good amount of time invested in learning while we try to move away from the traditional approaches.

On the Contrary, there are exceptions where Disruption is the Only way!

Gradual improvements are welcome where there is no need for drastic change. But in some organisations this empathetic mindset can be taken for granted. We will find personalities who are extremely qualified and have a very good knowledge of what is right. But milking it seems a better idea for them rather than improvements while exploiting the same knowledge of agile transformation. This is especially true if they are not a “Permy”, as their political existence is based on how long they can stretch the project to get maximum benefit out of a contract/temporary role.

I would be wrong, if I say all contractors are like this. Of course not. In fact, most team level contractors are exceptionally brilliant and embrace agility. The issue starts when we have the middle management as a contractor, who can influence crucial business decisions. These personalities will not harm the business but won’t improve it either. They will keep it as it is and in the name of “Agile Transformation” the project can last for years to come.

Agile Transformation doesn’t happen in a quarter, but it shouldn’t take over a year either.

 

If it takes more than a year with low or no relevant value delivered, we can be dead sure that it is being prevented by a crucial impediment, a process or a personality on power. It can be anything. A year long transformation should be a warning that, not everyone is on board. In these situations, empathy should be shown to personalities who are on board and the rest should be disrupted to make a crucial business decision.

Do you feel the same way?

Which version of the transformation have you experienced/experiencing? Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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Consider SHU over HA and RI

We come across many ways to become agile in our organisations, to name a few ways – Scrum, Kanban, XP, XDE and more. We want to become agile by being reactive rather than proactive, so that we can embrace change. We want to provide value, that is the goal. Being agile is one of the means to achieve that goal, not a goal in itself. Same goes for lean approaches which tries to reduce waste, a mean to provide value, the goal. Therefore, “elders” in this context are “scared and healed” thought leaders rather than traditional mindset driven older generation.

 

So why suddenly elders need respect? Aren’t we respecting them already? Hard to say really, as many of us say we do but may not really mean it, unconsciously. Even educated professionals may think they do but they don’t as they are too busy reinventing the wheel either because their training was not up to the mark or they are returning a favour to an old pal. I heard someone saying the other day – “My friend told me that Scrum slows them down, so we tried Kanban instead which turned out to be a disaster.. agile sucks in general anyway”. You know instantly, they have never understood the values and principles, so forget about the events and activities which binds it together.

Reason why, among traditionally trained professionals we hear so many discussions like – “Scrum is terrible“, “Kanban is the new Scrum” and “XP sounds like exactly the wrong way to go” and many more. Community members who say these, may have never seen it working in the first place OR don’t want to improve OR have seen a bad implementation which focused on goals like “Agile” or “Lean” – they may not realise that the goal is to “Deliver Value” and agile/lean helps you provide the value but not THE goal to show off.

 

So what any of these have to do with “Respecting Elders”? Well, the above is exactly what you get when you don’t respect the work the founders/creators aka the elders have carried out, number of times they have failed (learned) and amount of sweat they wiped in their lifetime. Most of us don’t spend time actually implementing a method “by book” in the first place. Learning curve is a waste for them and don’t even get me started on how some likes to bend the rules while calling it a “Flavour” of XYZ. This reminds me of a very interesting quote –

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing ~Salvador Dalì

 

We need to get into the mindset of learning, mastering and transcending. Yes, I am talking about ShuHaRi. I bet a lot of us may have heard about it, if not you have a link now. Shu is where you imitate without worrying about why you are doing it. Trust the research which has been done for years (some more than your age) and atleast give it a chance.

20 years experience in traditional techniques, does not make you an elder in mordern approaches – unless you have invented/created a better approach !

 

True elders have spent almost all of their professional life creating the agile/lean principles and practices, if you will. Then “By Book” should be your baseline, unless how can you criticise something you know nothing about? Once you know what by book means, then you can ask yourself if this is the right approach for your organisation or not. Nothing is a silver bullet but these are atleast “a” bullet to hit your targets, from which you gain experience and modify accordingly.

 

Some Examples of unintended disrespect:

“We have introduced Scrum before and hired a Scrum Master. He ended us hiring a Product Owner who replcaed our BA who was sufficient enough and much more cost effective. The team’s output slowed down since and 1 month later we realised we don’t want Scrum.”

“We have an electronic Kanban board where most of the items are blocked so we started to work on new items. The testers are uselessly slow and we ended up with nearly 20 items in testing swimlane. The developers were awesome though, they worked on all items in time but were kept getting blocked by the testers.”

“We tried TDD and wasted much of our time testing before writing the code while pair programming. We ended up with 90% test coverage but a plethora of defects which should have been caught by Unit tests during CI. So, we are now concentrating more on automated selenium tests after development.”

“We don’t need retrospectives as we never get where it adds value. What’s the point of revisiting past when we can use the time to concentrate on future?”

“In our Kanban board, we have a WIP limit 4 but we change it every week according to our need. Kanban says we can change the WIP limit anytime, as long as we visualise the workflow.”

“Our product owner needs to write user stories in Given/When/Then unless I have no idea what he asks me to build. He needs coaching so we developers can do our job faster. I think working as a Scrum Master alongside is taking a lot of his time.”

“BDD is just a language defining the behaviour and nothing else. Stories should be in BDD unless it is not Scrum, correct me if I am wrong.” (P.S: He did get corrected with a mandatory day long BDD workshop, he asked for it.)

“We need all the daily scrums happening between 9 till 10am, for all our teams. The project manager is only free during that window.”

 

You get the picture. These are very few examples among a million out there (Feel free to add more examples on comments). The elders are never mentioned but their experiences are challenged and disrespected everytime someone use these phrases in any format. Lack of knowledge is to blame or is it?

Respect these elders, we don’t need to fail the same way they did and learned. We have the wheel, we just have to use it and keep applying the WD40 (common sense) when required.