A lot of companies say that they “do agile”. This usually means that they started using some Scrum based project management tool and renamed their meetings to align with agile lingo. Sadly, most agile implementations focus on using the terms and tools while ignoring the principles that give it power. These implementations are better termed “fragile”. Like the frog in the banner image above, it has the appearance of flexibility but under stress it breaks.
You don’t “do agile”, you “are agile”. “Agile” is a way of life, a state of being. The tools and terms just facilitate it. Being agile means that you are effective because you are efficient and adapt quickly to change.
There is so much that can be said on the topic of enabling agility, but for me it comes down to truth and trust.
Agility starts with honesty about what works and what doesn’t work. So throw off the mask, stop going through the motions, and cut the fat!
Ask a lot of questions:
- Does this meeting achieve what we want? No, then cancel it and see if you miss it.
- Is everyone participating in this meeting? No, then kick them out.
- Do we ever hit the big delivery dates that we set for 3-6 months out? No, then accept the fact that you can’t predict the future and set smaller, incremental, achievable goals.
It is also about understanding the human factor in the work you do. Study people and realize that:
- You can’t interchange people for free. Over time they gain context that makes them significantly better at what they do.
- Assembly lines work well for cranking out repetitive widgets, but not for developing novel, creative works. You can’t just hand off your understanding to the next person to do their work. It is more efficient to involve the whole cross-functional team in most of the process.
- Increasing the lines of communication decreases efficiency. Sometimes adding another person hurts more than helps.
- Nine women can’t make a baby in 1 month. Some things just take time and no amount of money is going to change that.
- If someone doesn’t eat their own dog food, then they usually aren’t as invested in making it taste better. Everyone should have a hand in using what they produce.
These are just examples of things we can learn that can effect meaningful change if we are honest and inquisitive. I say “we” because agile is a team sport. This isn’t just for leaders, though leaders need to ensure that they create an environment where honesty from their workers is safe, encouraged, and valued. This brings us to the next point: trust.
Erik is an agile software developer in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys working full-stack (CSS, JS, C#, SQL) as each layer presents new challenges. His experience involves a variety of applications ranging from developing brochure sites to high-performance streaming applications. He has worked in many domains including military, healthcare, finance, and energy.