Dan Mezick wrote about the Agile Industrial Complex in this article. It’s inspired me to respond with this one.

Personal Aside

I really like Dan’s work. It’s truly inspirational to me. There are folks who are leading some different thinking in the agile community, swimming upstream if you will, and Dan is certainly one of them.

Dan is expert in Open Space. He’s also introduced the notion of Open Space Agility as a means of introducing agile to organizations. One of the hallmarks of OSA is the aspect of invitation. In OSA, folks are not told to be agile, they are invited to be part of crafting the organization transformation to agility.

In other words, they’re a part of it. It’s inclusive.

Now moving on from my bromance with Dan…

Push vs Pull

I’ve been talking about this aspect in my Certified Agile Leadership CAL I classes.  

From a leadership style perspective, if:

  • I TELL a team member what to work on, or how to design and test a piece of software, I am PUSHING my ideas onto them.

  • If I reserve my opinion about an approach. Then a team member or team asks me for help or ideas surrounding various approaches they’ve come up with, my ideas are being PULLED to them. I’m not telling, I’m SHARING.

Pushing is: command and control, prescriptive, and it maintains MY ownership of the work.

Pulling is: empowering, self-directed, group-based, and maintains TEAM ownership of the work, ideas, solutions, etc.

In agile contexts and as leaders, we want to be pushing less and being pulled more. Much more! 

That’s why Dan’s invitational approach works so well. It’s not a telling posture. Instead, it invites (pulls) folks into the agile transformation fray. That is, if they want to become part of it.

The Big But!

But I think there is a big but to the whole Pull/Invite approach. There’s a bit of a missing bit.

In my own experience participating in agile transformations, the relationship was slightly different.

It had:

  • A bit of PUSH: to get the ball rolling. To set a vision. To establish the WHY behind the initiatives. This also included leadership decision-making and prioritization.

  • A large amount of PULL: inviting and engaging the teams to participate in the strategy, planning, and execution of things.

  • And an even larger amount of INSPIRATION: which was based on the PUSH. It was the leader’s role (and the teams) to establish and inspirational vision and journey that, well in fact, pulled everyone along.

The point I’m making is that I don’t think a Pull/Invitation posture or stance alone can drive success. We need the Inspiration to generate the will, the energy, and the momentum. For what is, in fact, a very challenging, organizational change initiative.

Wrapping Up

As I read Dan’s article, I was disappointed in the extremity of it. It read like nearly every organization, coach and coaching firm, trainer, etc. who is focused on agile approaches, is well, PUSHY.

And while I agree that this is a common anti-pattern, there are many of us who try and take a more balanced approach. And there are cases, where a bit of Push can be a healthy thing.

For example, if I’m a leader in an agile organization that is delivering FinTech applications to FinTech clients, then there are certain regulatory concerns I have to meet. Otherwise, my products are not usable by my clients.

If I “invite” my teams to meet those requirements, then I run the risk of some opting out. When it fact, in running my business, it is not viable for folks to opt-out.

In this case, I have to push for the constraints to be supported by everyone in the agile teams. And if this comes off as being too prescriptive, then so be it. I just want this to be the exception case and not the rule. I also want to thoroughly explain the WHY behind it.

Of the three choices in the title, I want to amplify small-P push plus capital-P Pull as the right balancing act and with a strong measure of Inspiration. In my experience, this is the best mix for a successful and all-inclusive agile transformation.

Stay agile my friends,