I challenged a service organization leader the other day about their agile journey. The firm provides outsourced software development teams – mostly for agile-centric clients. I was asking him about his internal application of agile practices and he asked me the question:
But Bob, when are we “done” with Agile?
From his perspective, his clients were asking for agile aware and literate teams and he was providing them. But he really hadn’t wrapped his head around agility. And he struggled with the notion of adopting agile practices internally.
In fact, the hidden question behind his question was this:
But Bob, we’re providing agile teams to our clients and our clients are happy with the results. Why on earth would we go through the effort, cost, and invest the energy to “go Agile” internally within our teams and across our company?
The Answer behind the Answer
First of all, his reply said to me that he really didn’t understand the agile methods. For example, he really didn’t “buy into” the core principle of continuous improvement, because if he had, he wouldn’t have asked the question. The point being – you are never “Done” in your agile journey. There is always room for improvement and change is the only constant.
For me personally, I’ve been practicing, coaching and training agile methods for 15+ years. I haven’t approached thinking that I’ve “Arrived” or that I’m “Done”. And I truly hope I never will think this way.
And saying that, I wondered what other core principles he struggled with. For example:
- Self-directed teams
- Servant Leadership
- Increasing customer Value
Sure, he had a moderate understanding, enough to “sell” agile outsourcing to his clients. But I’d argue that if you pushed him on any aspect of agile approaches, he’d fold to more traditional practices fairly quickly.
To me, agile is a mindset. If I was setting up a company to provide agile teams and services, I’d not only set it up “externally”, but I’d adopt agile approaches “internally”. Why?
Because I’ve got the principles in my DNA, I’ve seen them provide greater value independent of the context.
For example, I’d want total transparency in the office around our outsourced teams and how we were doing across clients. I’d want to see a visible client challenge chart to reflect agile impediments we have across clients. And I’d want the teams to be reflecting often (retrospectives) so that we could be (1) continuously improving our internal teams and (2) continuously improving within our shared client teams. Even if that meant we would have to push on our clients a bit.
But in the end, I’d do it because of the RESULTS. What I’ve discovered is that as you embrace agility, moving towards that “being Agile” mindset, you flat out achieve better business outcomes and results. Period!
Does it matter to only “do Agile” on the outside and not on the “inside”?
This may sound too philosophical, but I think the answer is yes. It would be like a minister preaching every Sunday to his congregation, but then not listening to his own principled advice in his personal life.
Can he do it? Sure. But it’s sort of hypocritical to not walk your talk. And as I’ve said, I also think it impacts your potential results.
From an agile perspective, I think my friend’s teams are negatively impacted by the lack of a consistent and visible commitment to both externally and internally facing agility. I think it probably confuses them as far as their goals and it impacts the quality of their results.
You see, I think truly “being Agile” requires understanding and commitment to the principles. Do you have to apply them perfectly? No. But you have to continuously aspire to being as principled as you can be.
But on the flip side, I could be taking too harsh of a stance. It wouldn’t be the first time someone accused me of this :-)
Do principles matter? Does walking your talk matter? Does consistency matter? Does “being Agile” matter? Or is simply doing a little and going through the motions good enough?
That answer is ultimately up to each and every one of us…
Stay agile my friends,