Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Agile literally means being able to move, adjust, adapt, orient, change, or shift quickly and easily. Agile methodologies replace the high-level design with frequent redesigns.
Methodologies and management of anything (call it undertakings, projects, initiatives, or value-creation) are dependent on people working around and within the work environments. With agile being the buzz word in the industry, we have people and groups using it frequently with or without adequate knowledge. People in the industry fit in one or more categories like speakers, listeners, and doers with various levels of speaking, listening, and doing Agile. We categorize the people in the agile world under at least one of the following headers.
"Talking agile without knowing Agile"
"Think before you speak. read before you think” - Fran Lebowitz
This quote by Fran Lebowitz is an interesting and important aspect of our day-to-day life. And it always makes more sense when you talk about something you know. However, in the current agile world, where things need to be done with jet speed, the gap between talking and knowing agile is widening.
There should be an effort towards reducing this gap with lesser assumptions and more understanding. Training and continuous learning is the key for all people to avoid and ignore this. The designated servant leaders and coaches should participate more in cross-company knowledge sharing sessions (like conferences and meetups) and implement the learning in their undertakings.
"Thinking agile without doing Agile"
“There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” — John F. Kennedy
Thought without action is a waste. Thoughts, driven by knowledge and learning, incurs more investments. Investments should follow returns.
These people hesitate to try out the learnings in their own undertakings. The reason could be anything from the company culture to the individual’s personality.
Being Agile is a bigger/larger term than following a certain framework. It is the mindset. People learning/knowing and thinking about agile without incorporating are living a fictitious life. This may disengage them from their work.
The leadership should identify these thinkers. Understand their thought process and help to implement what is good for all. If the company is directly investing in the learning, should also yield the returns to achieve a win-win solution.
"Knowing Agile without the ability to do agile"
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." - Peter Druker
It could be the environment, the personality, the culture, or organizational guidelines that may stop the agile mind from actually implementing the agile frameworks to the job. But one must understand that agility doesn’t live in the frameworks. It is the mindset that can exist within any work environment. All you need is the courage to state what is right, set the right examples, and make the best adjustments/improvements to make the doer’s life easy and the customer’s satisfaction index high. Agility is all about supporting the leader within you who promotes doing the right things.
"Doing Agile without knowing Agile"
“Without Knowledge, the action is useless and knowledge without action is futile.” ― Abu Bakr
This type of people in an agile setup is the real mess. You have started something you don’t know about and expect a good outcome. How?
The dilemma and misconceptions about “doing agile vs being agile” are increasing day by day. The main cause is how people with an authority (not having an agile mindset) guide the teams to do agile and believe that they are doing it right. Doing agile can be learned in a few days with some basic training or reading theories. However, getting an agile mindset needs more than that, things like transformation and cultural shift. It is a journey for long term goals and benefits. Coaching is the prime solution, and relentless improvement is a virtue.
Always remember that doing agile is not being agile.
"Knowing some agile theories and making it the hard rules"
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso
There are self-proclaimed-agile-philosophers in the industry, every company faces such a group of thinkers, carrying the bookish knowledge. They mostly act as preachers. They make the firm boundaries and guardrails between what and what-not-to follow.
But agility only has guidelines, a few agile frameworks may have certain hard rules, but overall agile is purposely incomplete. Any rule that is obnoxious must be changed. Agility is all about evolution. No matter what framework/institute you follow, Relentless Improvement is an important pillar of agile. Improvements come with the mindset to let change.
Some coaching and positive influence from leadership and agile coaches can certainly help this group of people in the industry.
"Bureaucracy is the death of any achievement." - Albert Einstein
The bureaucratic style of management focuses on assigning specific duties to employees and following the hierarchy. They’re less concerned with collaboration and more interested in following rules and procedures. Bureaucratic leaders assign everyone a set of duties and tasks, and all work is streamlined from top to bottom. This style of leadership is of little use in heavily regulated industries, but negatively effective in creative environments.
The industry does see bureaucratic minds in agile setups. In the name of agility, they promote the master-slave relationship and limit generative culture. This is the most serious anti-pattern that focuses on self-gain (mostly power).
The higher management can help rectify this issue with influence and coaching from the agile coaches. Attrition rate and 360-degree review are two of many signals that can help management identify the bureaucratic anti-pattern.
"Agility is fundamental to leading a team through times of change." - Sandra E. Peterson
Change is the only constant in the world and change should start from I/me/us. Agile minds don’t hesitate to try out new things. If they fail, they look forward to learning. They respect the SMEs but build the cross-functionality to reduce the knowledge silos.
We have agile people around us, spreading positivity in several ways. Sometimes they claim to be agile, sometimes they don’t even know that they are. Agility is a mindset that helps you swiftly respond to a change, focus on values, promote trust and transparency, respect opinions/differences, and keep the team above personal goals.
As an Agilist, I need to make sure that
I am NOT disrespecting others by promoting anti-patterns
I am NOT talking about agile without knowing Agile
I am NOT taking actions without understanding the big picture
I am NOT doing agile without knowing agile
I am NOT making hard rules based only on some theories I know
Agility is developed and nurtured within the pure minds that believe in “Our success is my success”.
Different levels of agile minds are an industry-wide problem. Organizations claiming to be agile should provide an environment that organically promotes agility, but that seldom happens.
One of the major causes of the problem is a misconception that a servant leader (a.k.a. Scrum Master) is the manager-equivalent in agile. That pushes the companies making their existing traditional managers the Scrum Masters (and even Agile coaches in some cases) on the newly formed agile teams. When these managers can not learn/respect agility then the entire implementation is a failure (there are exceptions where we have seen great managers being great servant leaders and coaches too).
Another big cause of this problem is the degraded validated learning. The certification bodies are inclined towards making money without paying attention to the suitability of learners for the courses. There are set rules for certain certifications/credentials, but the criteria exist only on papers. Any newbie can attend and bag the highest coach/consultant certification by paying the course fees. These inexperienced certified people become the implementers of agile in the companies and also the trainers to the next agile batch.
The solution to the overarching problem lies in the problem itself, the people. The right coaching can lead to the right agility in the industry.