Last year, on my birthday, a friend gave me a card that read "Don't seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought". -Basho Matsuo

I loved this quote so much that I put the card on my refrigerator as a reminder to myself. Recently I was cleaning up in the kitchen and it caught my attention. As I think about the organizations that I work with, I'm reminded of how often we look to copy what others are doing in their agile transformations without really knowing why they do what they do. Specifically, I'm thinking of those times when we look at some other team or organization who is doing something different than the "by the book" agile framework and think to ourselves "They're advanced and they're doing it different. I'm going save myself the trouble of learning the hard way and just do the same thing." Sounds like a great plan right? I mean, who wants to waste time making the same mistakes that someone else made if we don't have to? Not me and probably not you.

So what's my problem?

My problem is this. What's right for someone else may be absolutely wrong for you. To make my point, let's take a look at other areas in life where we already understand this to be true. I have a friend who is about the same age as me, has a similar educational background, socioeconomic status and family situation. My friend doesn't own a car - by choice. If you asked her, having a car is a nuisance in the city. Finding parking is a hassle. Insurance and maintenance is expensive. Most of the places she visits are a short walk or a short bus/subway/cab ride away. On the rare occasions when she needs a car, she just rents one. When you live, work and play in the city, a car is often more trouble than it's worth so her decision is reasonably good one.

So why do I insist on keeping a car when my friend is doing quite well without one? Well, there's an important difference between us. I don't live in the city. I live in the suburbs. The nearest grocery store is a mile away and along roads that don't even have sidewalks. My office is a 40 minute drive away. My house has a driveway, a garage and ample street parking. Most of the places I visit have free parking lots. When I take into account our situations, what works for her doesn't make any sense at all for me. It would be a big mistake for me to blindly do what she does without first understanding why it works for her and assessing the differences in our situations.

The same is true for agile transformations. Before you look at another organization or even another team within your organization and seek to copy what they do, first find out what they were seeking and decide if you'd like to seek the same. How do you decide if you should be seeking the same? Here's a list to help you out.

  1. Do they value the same things as you do?
  2. Is what they are doing consistent with your values?
  3. What is their end goal? Is it the same as yours?
  4. What compromises have they made based on constraints? Do you have the same constraints?
  5. What have they given up? Are you willing to give up the same?
  6. What did they have to put in place to make it work? Will you be able to do the same?
  7. What risks did they accept? Is the same at risk for you?
  8. What pain are they feeling? Is that a pain you can tolerate?
  9. What's working best for them? Are those things the things that are important you?

You don't have to answer yes to all of these questions, but most of them should be true before you copy what someone else is doing. Regardless of what you decide, make sure to also ask yourself...

  1. How will we know if this is working for us? What will we measure?
  2. How long will we try before we reconsider our decision?
  3. What will we do it if is not working? What other options do we have?