La Fosse were delighted to host The 7 Deadly Sins of Implementing Agile in partnership with Intechnica.
Agile has become a standardised solution for any organisation striving to increase revenue, customer retention and employee satisfaction; but how often do we actually see these promised benefits materialise? Managing Director Richard Hilsley and Agile Coach Rod Armstrong of Intechnica presented their “Seven Deadly Sins of Implementing Business Agility,” before opening the discussion to the audience, who debated the Sins and Virtues in small focus groups. In true Agile fashion the event concluded with a "show and tell" which triggered a lively group debate.
Find the seven sins and virtues below.
The Sins & Virtues:
Too Often: Tech driven
Not Enough: Org driven
The origins of Agile are a group of techies getting together and devising the Agile Manifesto and its foundational principles. Today, it's still true to say that engineers are often the ones driving it. However, journeys that succeed are ones which have genuine organisational alignment.
While tech teams are often the primary drivers for Agile adoption, we must ensure that the wider organisation is brought into the “fold” as early as possible, avoiding the risk of a schism opening between technology and “the business” which is all too often an already fractious relationship.
Too Often: Transformation
Not Enough: Transition
This might be better termed "destination" and "journey." The key point is that “Transformation” suggests a beginning and an end (much like a project), yet Agile is about continual improvement, it’s about creating a learning organisation - so it’s an ongoing process. The word Transformation is best avoided as it sets expectations of an identifiable uplift, a ‘return on the investment’ in change, before the organisation all too often returns to old habits, like quicksand ameliorating a newly built sandcastle. It is a failure in managing expectations of senior leadership and damaging the perception of the success when implementing Agile.
Too Often: Chaos
Not Enough: Focused
“Agile” is in danger of becoming a damaged brand and part of the reason for this is that individuals can get lost in the theory and lose sight of the intent. This can happen when autonomy is taken too far and tech teams "go native" – aka, start doing whatever they want.
By giving teams too much power, organisations risk losing sight of what really benefits the business. The grip on minimum standards can be weakened, leading to a significant increase in the long-term cost of ownership. How do you maintain a smorgasbord of tech when the dev team just wants to experiment with new shiny stuff?
Focus comes down to leadership making sure teams are aligned to OKRs and understand what truly matters for the business - which often isn’t the latest technology.
Too Much: Evangelical
Not Enough: Pragmatic
Agile is not a religion and while passion & enthusiasm are vital in its adoption, those who do not immediately share the same zest for change should not be disregarded. They are often alienated by the zealots, thus becoming disenfranchised and then hardened to change; we need to take these people on the journey too.
Too Much: Manifesto
Not Enough: Principles
Most Agile implementations tend to focus on the 4 Values that are core to the manifesto; however, there is a tendency to forget the nuance of the words. For example, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” does not mean “individuals and interactions” instead of processes and tools. In other words, both are important – it’s not binary choice. We have observed that many people, often even those with years of experience, are unaware or have forgotten the Principles (page 2 of the manifesto), yet these are critical and should be validated against every new implementation.
Too Much: Feelings
Not Enough: Empiricism
At the core of Agile we inspect and adapt. Measurement can be hard and often teams don’t like the discipline that is associated with tracking time and effort; rather they focus on the feeling of the sprint. Frankly, the CFO or the business’ customers care little about feelings – they care about costs and a great user experience. Teams should keep in mind the need to objectively evidence the improvements they are claiming, or to highlight the obstacles that are holding them back.
Too Much: Servant
Not Enough: Leadership
We are all so afraid of being considered “command & control” that we abdicate responsibility of leadership. The phrase is Servant Leadership, so it’s vital to provide direction and call out where individuals are “self-organising” rather than the team as whole. Often when viewed from the outside, technology teams can be perceived as being out of control, being unmanageable; we have a responsibility to prevent this from happening through strong leadership.
What did we learn?
There are as many views on achieving business agility as there were people in the room. Despite its apparent simplicity, true Enterprise Agility still remains hard to achieve, especially without addressing the underlying culture of an organisation. Being agile is a state of mind and very much a journey towards improvement for most organisations that takes time and requires discipline and leadership.