by Chris Maniates
As a recovering PMP, card-carrying Black Belt and active SPC, it’s obvious that I really appreciate learning about process. Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of articles with checklist recipes to be agile. It’s easy to be agile! Need an agile product owner? Take one business analyst, add a few agile tasks, and out pops an agile product owner. This recipe cheapens the self-managing and self-organizing aspects of the agile team. Another recipe asks developers to simply trade requirement documentation for user stories, to treat stories as if they are gospel handed down, never to be questioned. Or a project manager is given a Release Train Engineer title and begins pushing agile onto teams. This doesn’t work out well. Process checklists are a recipe for a quasi-agile work but won’t provide stellar agile benefits. To be fair, some checklists do include ‘agile mindset’. Yet many readers consider an agile mindset to be a vague concept, so they quickly skip over it. Big miscalculation.
It’s not ethereal, it’s tangible. Agile is a verb. We agile. I agile.
An agile mindset is described many ways. Within those descriptions, the most vital is the internal intent of being agile. When you use agile as a verb, you approach the work in a collaborative way, actively listening with a true capability to pivot from your own stance, take the time to truly digest other points of view, and honestly work together towards an agreement. It means that while you are ‘doing’, you are relentlessly pushing yourself to be open and supportive of others. You engage on two levels: in the ‘doing’ with others and within yourself. Stretching within yourself to be open, to mercilessly pivot abandoning past opinions, to acknowledge the brilliance of others. To question your learned reflex and try a new way. This internal re-posturing is difficult for many people. Some find it so threatening that they repeatedly lash out until they slow or stop the group’s agile evolution. Resistance is not futile. From what I’ve seen, it is a main reason for quasi-agile to take hold in an organization.
Address the aversion to change before you change.
When an organization opts to goes agile, it’s rarely a group decision. Usually an executive dictates a group of individuals to change their process and change themselves. It’s little wonder that there is resistance. Individuals may agree to change a work process but to change how they personally interact because the boss mandated it? This is not a promising approach. Instead, be agile. The people should be genuine participants in the decision itself.
Also, the current assumption is that most people will slowly accept agile. Unfortunately, that may not happen before a formidable quasi-agile culture is entrenched. While asking others to participate in the agile decision, have long and thoughtful engagement with those affected. It’s necessary to provide compelling justifications. There is a lot of power in slow, respectful discussions. It reassures them that change is not dangerous. It demonstrates agile in action as a verb. It’s essential for them to discover how agile is a verb and to begin their own internal re-posturing on their own terms. This crucial work gives the agile mindset a chance to grow. And that enables stellar agile benefits.
Why did I leave waterfall and plain Six Sigma methods to embrace Agile? It was the mindset. Personally, it’s invigorating to stretch myself, learn and change. I enjoy work when using agile as a verb.
SPC 5, Black Belt
Co-organizer of Seattle Women in Agile local group