My friend and colleague, Lee Eason, recent wrote a post entitled – Redefining Success in a Post Agile World. In it, he generally shared thoughts around the evolution occurring (and needed) in the agile community towards understanding and delivering on business factors.
First, I want to congratulate Lee on a thoughtful and well-written article. I look forward to those moments when Lee shares his thoughts. While they are infrequent, they are important and timely observations from an agile practitioner in the trenches.
However, I do want to react and add a perspective to Lee’s. One that I think he may have underemphasized or missed altogether.
Here’s a snippet from his closing thoughts:
It's time to wake up and grow up
Agile coaches and speakers need to start adopting a commercial and economic mindset and bring balance back to their teaching. In order to be successful, a company has to budget, project and monitor cash flow, measure the value of the work our development teams are doing, and track the progress of large business initiatives over time. These are not evil pursuits. If you view them as a threat to your Agility, then I challenge you to rethink your definition of what an agile company really is. Agile organizations adapt faster, improve over time, and strive to only engage in activities that add demonstrable value. This is the end goal of all agile practices – to make our companies more adaptable and therefore more successful.
If you've got ideas about how to help teams become more in tune with the business, let me know in the comments. If you disagree with the premise, I'd be curious to read your thoughts as well.
After reading all of Lee’s article several times, something kept bothering me. It was almost as if he’d been assimilated by the leadership teams and business stakeholders. Why? Because his perspective seemed to be so skewed towards them and their needs.
Don’t get me wrong. I do think agile speakers and coaches need to focus more on discussing (and exploring):
- Commercial and economic dynamics;
- Needs for schedule commitments;
- Tracking of progress via KPIs;
- Measuring value flow and cash flow;
- Performing larger program forecasting and tracking.
All from a business perspective, a stakeholder perspective, and a leadership perspective. Agreed.
But there’s something missing?
Where is the reciprocal understanding? Where is the pressure on those very same stakeholders to better understand agility and to not take advantage of their teams?
For example, I’ve seen so many stakeholders, share with their teams a scope set and an arbitrary date expectation. Then they start socializing that content + date out in the marketplace to customers. All without engaging their teams and taking the time to understand their capacity and ability to deliver to these promises.
It turns out then that they’ve overcommitted their teams. Not by a little. But by a LOT. Then they use some of the positioning and posturing that Lee alludes to, to basically bully their teams into working themselves silly to make that commitment.
And if the teams push back at all, they’re told that this “agile stuff” needs to be more aware of business and customer needs, more flexible, and more committed. When all the while the teams are all of those things. They’re just not super-human machines that can do whatever is requested of them.
As Lee alluded to, there is a BALANCE to be struck. In the article, Lee speaks to agile teams understanding and thinking about KPI’s. I agree.
But I also want stakeholders and leaders understanding and thinking about:
- The nature of velocity and velocity or flow-based forecasting;
- The REAL capacity of their teams;
- The cost of automation, DevOps, and investment;
- The need for time to innovate and create;
- The cost of having distributed over co-located teams;
- The need to support collaboration;
- And the need to trust their teams, what they say they can do, and how they do it.
They need to continuously and more deeply understand the principles of agile software development and to become a student of it. Working hard to not consider it a silver bullet, but importantly achieve a balanced understanding of the principles and practices.
First of all, I really want to thank Lee for his perspective. It made me think. It’s also made me consider changes to my coaching and teaching.
Under the banner of continuous improvement, I really appreciate that.
In my travels, I do see agile organizations and teams not considering the perspectives that Lee alludes to. And they should! However, much more often, I see the stakeholders and business side folks adopting the views that I shared. I think that’s why I emphasize that so much in my writing and coaching. It’s simply a reaction to get the balance right.
But I want to ask that everyone reading Lee’s article and this response fully consider “both sides”. To truly win the game, the business and the teams need to be delivering in partnership and concert; not as adversaries or in a one-sided arrangement.
Here’s to balance my friends,