Lots of 'doing Agile', not much 'being Agile'

by Brendon Livingstone on 13/02/2018 10:00

Lots of 'doing Agile', not much 'being Agile'

Sprints, user stories, definitions of done, daily stand-ups, backlog grooming, sprint planning, retrospectives, burn-down charts, pair programming, technical spikes, continuous integration, test driven development, specification by example, refactoring…

These words are now commonplace in our daily activities as IT professionals. We have lots of 'doing Agile' going on in New Zealand IT projects.

But, so what?

As an industry we often get focused on the processes and the tools, and forget about the more important stuff, like people and business value.

'Doing Agile' is a waste of time if it doesn't help our organisations be better by generating more value, or being more flexible or resilient to change, or creating great environments for people to work.

In other words, 'doing Agile' is only really of value if it helps organisations to achieve the state of 'being Agile'.

Moving to 'being Agile'

The Agile manifesto warns us against focusing on 'doing Agile', with its fundamental value of:

"Individuals and interactions over processes and tools"

Instead of focusing on the processes, practices and tools for 'doing Agile' we need to be looking at the individuals and interactions, or more simply put the 'people'.

When we focus on people then we start thinking about fundamental and important areas such as culture, leadership, behaviour, trust, change, resistance, and creating engaged team members.

Culture, change, and management has been shown to be the main challenges for organisations adopting Agile. For example, the VersionOne 11th State of Agile Report shows that three of the top four challenges experience adopting and scaling Agile include:

  • Company philosophy or culture at odds with core agile values
  • Lack of management support
  • General organisational resistance to change.

So it follows that if we are going to be successful with Agile, we need to move some energy and attention away from perfecting the 'doing Agile' piece and start giving much more effort to the fundamental people issues of 'being Agile'. Typically 'doing Agile' might create a 20% improvement. 'Being Agile' can unlock 200-300%.

Where to start

Culture, leadership, change – all this people stuff – it is hard. There is no silver bullet. Many of the answers put forward such as Holacracy, Teal Organisations, Management 3.0, The Spotify Model also come with their limitations and these approaches are not necessarily one-size fits all that can be readily applied to your organisation, nor should they be as that would be over simplifying our complex world.

Your organisation needs to plot its own course based on what works for your particular circumstances, goals and constraints.

Equinox IT partners with Michael Sahota to deliver the Certified Agile Leadership course in New Zealand. Michael covers many of these important areas in his two day course and it is a great place to start your journey to 'being Agile' and creating a high performance organisation.

You can gain some of Michael's thinking from these resources on the Equinox IT website:

Equinox IT also has Principal Consultants who can help you explore what is right in your organisational context to the overcome the challenges to making Agile successful, beyond simply 'doing Agile'.

If these options are not for you, then I'd defer some of the effort you are putting into perfecting your Agile practices, and invest that time and money in exploring some of the modern thinking around culture, leadership and change from thinkers like Steve Denning, Chris Fussell, Frederic Laloux, Gary Hamel, Jurgen Appelo, and Michael Sahota. Investment in this area for 'being Agile' should deliver a higher ROI on your Agile adoption than getting perfect at 'doing Agile'.

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