BlogMarch 6, 2020
Agile In Wonderland
You've launched yourself down the rabbit hole of an agile transformation and are seeing some very strange things. Is any of this even real agile? Or are you living in some nightmarish alternate reality? Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a weird and oddly accurate parallel to many of the things that keep companies from realizing the expected value of adopting agile ways of working. So, Alice, let's go on this fantastic journey together...
I'm Late!!! I'm Late!!!
You've seen the White Rabbit frantically checking his watch and saying, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!" and "Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!". Then like a flash he takes off without you. You're feeling left behind. For many companies on their Agile journey, the adventure often starts with a belief that things are always late and "Agile will make us FASTER". That is not the definition of the word and setting that as the goal limits the benefits that can be realized when adopting agile ways of working. Yes, there is often a sense that you are always behind and need to get things done faster than you currently are, but trying to do the same work in the same way only "faster" is a recipe for disaster. Looking at your challenge from different perspectives, such as approaching large efforts through smaller chunks of work that you can quickly learn from, allows you to make your way closer to realizing the definition of "agile". You want to achieve the capability to change course quickly and gracefully when you learn that the current conditions and circumstances call for it. But chasing that agile "rabbit" can take you to some dark and strange places…
The Pool of Tears
"Curiouser and curiouser!" You've fallen down the dark rabbit hole and find yourself trapped in a hallway with locked doors. But wait! There's a key! It opens a door to a beautiful and wondrous garden. Alas, you are too big to fit through the doorway! You are determined to make it through to that garden no matter what, so you start looking around for anything that might help you get there. "Drink Me" says the bottle, but it makes you too small to reach the key. "Eat Me" says the cake, but now you've grown too big. You can still manage to see through the door to the garden, but to get there now seems more hopeless than ever. So, you sit down and cry until you've created a pool of tears. You find a way to shrink down yet again, but now you're swimming in your own tears which then gets crowded with other animals and birds that fall in. What a big, wet disaster! Everyone gathers at the edge of the pool, angry and uncomfortable, to discuss how to get dry again when a Dodo tells you that the best thing to dry off would be to run a race. The race consists of everyone running in circles with no clear winner. This all seems totally absurd, but everyone keeps being so serious that you don't dare laugh and are not able to come up with anything to say.
In Agile transformations, this common type of erratic and nonsensical result is created when you blindly follow directions (be it written instructions or 'Dodo' coaches) that tell you to do all kinds of specific things but don't tell you what benefits they have in your particular situation. A completely process-oriented approach to learning and following agile practices, such as Scrum or SAFe, will not make you agile. You can easily end up in a situation where you are using new terminology and going through the motions but not seeing any true benefits. Taking training classes and obtaining certifications does not equate to expertise and experience. Realizing this allows you to seek skilled guidance focused on creating outcome-oriented solutions that fit your immediate context and future needs. To get from here to there, you need to know exactly who you are, where you want to go, and who you want to be…
Advice from a Caterpillar
You've taken your first steps into the garden and come upon a giant mushroom with a hookah smoking caterpillar sitting on it. The cryptic caterpillar asks, "Who are YOU?". You end up admitting to your current identity crisis. "I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then… being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing". "What size do you want to be?" "I'm not particular as to size" you say, "only one doesn't like changing so often, you know." The caterpillar's advice is to break off pieces of each of the two sides of the mushroom, and you eat some of each piece to get bigger and smaller, back and forth until you bring yourself to what you feel is the right size. During an Agile transformation, it is imperative to find a right-sized solution to fit your needs. Matching the transformation approach to the current context sets the expectations of how teams will work amongst themselves as well as communicate with other teams when necessary. Just because you are a large company doesn't necessarily mean that you need a "scaled" process solution or implementation. Who are you today? Does your architecture support small independent teams developing and deploying, unassisted by other teams? Do you have large numbers of people working on the same codebase which merge and integrate into a single customer experience? How many different types of skills do you need on a team to do all the work for a given solution? It's questions like these that need to be investigated, and possibly experimented with to come to appropriate answers. Set an objective to clearly identify who you really are and what size you really need to be so you can move forward and get closer to achieving your objectives.