Agile Isn’t Out. You Are.

<Reproduced with kind permission from Forbes.>

By this time if you work in technology in any capacity it’s impossible that you’re not at least vaguely familiar with Agile as a concept and the fact that it is the cornerstone of the achievements coming out of Silicon Valey.

Sadly, that’s also the level most people remain at even when they are meant to be involved in practicing it in their day-to-day lives.

We all love a good buzz-feed-like list of what to do or not to do and Agile offers none of that, so it can be hard to engage at first and frustrating to continue going forward, in particular, if the people employing it have had years of working in a very different fashion.

Whether in project management, software development, marketing, sales or management, having the ability to change the methods you employ while working and adopt an Agile mindset instead is a competitive advantage and allows you to deliver more to the business and do so faster. Who doesn’t want to be better?

Trouble is, the part above that says “adopt an Agile mindset” is not a matter of speech but the actual crux of the issue. It requires a real change of mentality and a high degree of emotional investment -in lieu of mere determination- to employ this practice.

“To Be Or Not To Be Truly Agile”

Attempting to do what I call “Agile by numbers” in the sense of adopting whatever process that calls itself Agile -be it Scrum or Lean or Kanban or any of the new trendy executional variations we see every day- without having any type of personal conviction that it will work, and therefore simply relying on a set of actions is doomed.

The Agile manifesto says it clearly: it’s all about the people not the process. Despite that, most people that come near it will try to rely on process and overcomplicate the procedure and the terminology because keeping it fundamentally simple is a lot more complicated than it looks and requires a degree of emotional intelligence many people were not called to exercise in their work lives.

What does emotional intelligence have to do with it?  I’ve often written about this in the past, Agile is a “Way of Thinking not a Way of Working”. Being Agile creates mental pressure to the practitioner. The old ways of work have served the employee for years, changing anything is intensely risky and most of us are risk averse when it comes to our professional lives. At the same time, anyone who looks under the hood understands that Agile speeds things up but may expose limitations as it needs the practitioner to eternally be alert, always question their progress, never stop pushing themselves and others and always strive for new and better.

Excellence is not comfortable or easy to attain and all that Agile does is enable excellence.

Clearly, this amount of emotional intelligence and high performance is possible as some people and some enterprises – few and far between- have managed to embrace Agile indeed not just pay it lip service.

Sometimes it took the professional to have arrived at Agile on their own – whether by reading the wonders of delivery it performs for Google or Amazon or by employing some of it in their own lives before they could see it part of their work. Sometimes, while it may have been mandated and made obligatory from the top, they have had the right Agile coach that knew how to instill a love of the concept and they have learned to appreciate its merits and have truly taken it to heart.

And it takes taking it to heart. I often say “Agile is a religion” for the pleasure of watching the uncomfortable shifts in my dialogue partner and while said for drama effect, it isn’t untrue – to be truly agile you have to be willing to believe. Thankfully that belief doesn’t have to be in any invisible entity but in clear statistics and hard-to-argue-with solid results showing how much more innovative, efficient and successful organizations that truly are Agile can be.

For the younger generation that is simply now coming into the workforce, things are somewhat easier as they don’t need to make a painful moral transition between waterfall ways of working and Agile, they simply know there is this magical way that the digitally native technology giants and other nimble entities are using with excellent results, and they can embrace it right away. No questions, no mourning over Prince certifications.

“Let’s Wait Agile Out, It’s A Phase”

For the rest of us who have been used to a different “order of things” it’s not as easy. Which explains why, set to the background of the initial founders and the early evangelists becoming more and more demoralized, and the concept gaining more and more momentum as the cornerstone of the new ways of work, there is a reactionary “meh, Agile is just a trendy concept, we don’t need to use it” vibe coming from some players. Wishful thinking of the worst kind and also a harmful stance subconsciously designed to give excuses to the incapable.

Agile is not going anywhere. While it will be slower to penetrate some functions of the organization and even extend itself to social interactions and education, it will undoubtedly do so in the future and next generations will know no other way of thinking than flexible, collaborative and effective.

Once every organization accepts that, they can move on to figuring out how they can truly get their people to take it to heart which won’t be easy.

Hire And Fire For An Agile Heart

Two of my practical suggestions are avoiding the common pitfalls of “doing Agile wrong” as they relate to process, and ensuring that your own leaders are Agile.

I’ve said this many times before, but there is no hope for the organization that claims they will embrace Agile while their own leaders haven’t done so.

As a matter of fact, if you’re a company who is serious about progress, the most sensible thing to do, is only hire senior management that is demonstrably Agile, who live and breath it themselves in their work practice and their day-to-day life alike.

That and fire the ones that aren’t Agile. Every last one of them. Set them free to find the last bastions where “win” is not on the “In Process” column and once you do, go back to moving “become a truly Agile organization” to the “Done” list.

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