Why ​We are Forcing People to do Agile

Throughout our lives, we go through stages of development, expansion, and learning. This occurs when we are babies to childhood, from childhood to adolescence, and from adolescence to adulthood. It continues as a natural and important part of growth and advancement for us as individuals.

This becomes particularly important when trying to function together in groups or communities. We look for common interests, skills, and approaches. However, this can cause more harm than good when trying to achieve uniformity.

Enter Agile

We are all know how Agile has taken over most industries with its ceremonies, values, practices, and roles. It has created fertile soil for conferences, frameworks, books, tools, scaled-frameworks, and consulting practices. With all of this, it has shifted many organizations (small to large) to adopt some of its elements.

To advance the movement and acceptance of Agile frameworks (such as Scrum or Kanban), there has been plenty of coercion. directives, initiatives, plans, and forceful edicts. Why would we force people to use an Agile approach when it is counter to the very spirit and value of Agile?

Why Would We Force People to do Agile?

There are plenty of reasons why we force people to do Agile (some good, some bad). Your reasons may include: stay ahead of the competition, new company direction, innovation is important, all the cools kids are doing it, financial struggles, need to entice the best talent, and the senior leader said so.

Or maybe one or two people see great value and want others to come along for the ride. Then as that team (of volunteers) shows progress and joy, the department or company decides that it is best for all teams.

Let’s standardize Agile.

So, then you have a bunch of new teams that need training, coaching, support, and direction to follow this “agile thing” for their own good. Based on my experience and plenty of harm caused to others, you end up with teams that must do agile but are not happy about it. Does this end with better results?

Agile + Old-World Structure ≠ Healthy Organization

On top of teams that are unhappy and forced to follow an agile approach, you also come up against a corporate culture that is not compatible with agile. Putting together an agile approach with a company structure that is not compatible does not result in a healthy organization. Instead, it causes disruption, fear, confusion, and low satisfaction.

Here are a few signs that may make the adoption of an agile framework fail:

  • If your culture values command and control, then agile will not thrive.
  • If your organization functions on long-term planning not based on market reality or customer feedback, then agile will not thrive.
  • If your department prefers to hide from relationship dysfunction, then agile will no thrive.
  • If your culture tries to act like a machine where all people are resources that help move the machine forwards towards quarterly stock improvements and incremental innovation, then agile will not thrive.

This does not mean that agile won’t produce some modest results, but to achieve lasting and meaningful results where the overall health of the organization continues to improve requires a different approach to introducing and implementing agile.

There are Healthier and More Effective Ways to Adopt Agile

We are starting to learn that putting children in school classes where all face forward and are fed information like empty glasses is not only ineffective but produces sub-par results.

We are starting to learn that health is not just physical and mental but holistic and organic in nature.

And, we are starting to learn that forcing people to do agile is not only against the mandate of the agile values but unkind and inhumane.

Luckily there are alternatives to this forceful approach.

  1. Start with the Willing: This is how I do most of my agile coaching. I start working with those that are excited by and willing to learn something new. They are willing to change, adjust their thinking, and go on a journey together.
  2. Help the Able: It is critical to mentor, teach, and coach those that have the mental space, work freedom, and support from management to explore doing agile. These are those that can pause to reflect with a retrospective, pay attention to their colleague’s health, want to challenge the status quo, and put the time required in adjusting their approach to work.
  3. Be the Example: By behaving in an agile way, you can encourage others to do the same. The walk is much more powerful than the talk. “Let deeds not words be your adorning.” The more we show through consistent actions that the embodiment of agile (such as being inclusive, inspecting & adapting, or seeking out feedback) we can influence others to follow suit.
  4. Invite and Inspire: Through videos, story-telling, and genuine friendships we can invite people to play in this space, explore the agile values, see alternatives to our way of working and create better ways to produce great results.

Agile is not the end. Agile is the means to an end. Find the real purpose for the company to excel, and then decide if agile can plan a role in getting you there.

Great Resources to Shift Your Approach to Adopting Agile

There are so many wonderful people in the world that have already taken up the mantle to shift our thinking and approach to adopting agile.

  • Invite Transformational Experiences by Michael Sahota (article): This agile coach turns the agile adoption process on its head through invitation, inspiration, and exploration. His approach and article offer a powerful alternative to the current agile adoption thinking.
  • Build Your Own Scrum by Adam Weisbart (game): This agile trainer created a full-engaging game that helps a group explore Scrum. It not only lets you see how it all fits but also if it would be good for your group to adopt.
  • Modern Agile by Joshua Kerievsky (model): This creator offers an alternate perspective to what agile has become through four powerful principles. This helps the reader to examine the company culture for ingredients that may add to or subtract from the organization’s culture and purpose.
  • Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux (book): This author takes the reader on a journey of the various stages of organizations. It helps us to determine where our company fits and the elements to make it progress. This can help us decide if and how an agile approach may work in our company.

What other ways do you know to adopt agile? What has worked for you? What didn’t work and why? Sound off in the comments below.

Thanks and enjoy your journey with Agile values and Agile frameworks. Remember, Agile is an approach to get to your goals not the goal in itself!


Warm regards,

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