Eye of the Beholder

By November 29, 2016Blog

The first thing that’s on my mind, the thing that’s on my mind this morning that I want to share with you, and hopefully spur some of your thinking as you start your day, is that Agile is in the eye of the beholder. Have you noticed this? Have you asked five people what agile is? You’re going to get ten answers. The reason is that it really is a matter of perspective. There tends to be, it boils down to two key areas of conversation.

“Agile is about Methods”

A lot of people say that agile is about using a certain set of techniques that reflect a mindset. If we apply these techniques, we can change our thinking patterns, and we can be more adaptive, more innovative. This would include burn-downs, and sprints, user stories, story points, and back-logs, and roles metrics, and product owners. Agile means we’re going to do a lot of this stuff.

“Agile is about the Organization”

Meanwhile, other people aren’t satisfied with that. They’re not even really interested in that as much as they’re interested in organizational agility. It’s more about the culture. It’s not that we’re trying to achieve a mindset; rather it STARTS with a mindset. Namely, we’re not going to be hiring people that aren’t interested in being this kind of organization. We’re going to start changing who we work with, and what we philosophically believe, and how we work in this organization. This tends to be emulated by those unicorns that you hear about: the Googles, the Estys, the Netflixes. The places where people just love working, because they’re crushing it. They’re producing great results. They’re autonomous. They’re empowered, and there’s a sense of freedom and liberation. This is what a lot of people say agile is to them.

Overlap and Transformation

Truth be told, while those are two different perspectives, there is some overlap here. Among the difference between doing agile techniques, versus being an agile organization, there is some commonality. Some techniques are really specific to the kind of organization culture described as agile, or adaptive, or highly dynamic (Beyond Budgeting, Holacracy, etc) . How do we bridge this gap? How do we move from being a place where we’ve got a lot of institutional legacy of micro-managers, in order to be more of an agile organization? That is what people call transformation.

Transformation is where we’re going to start bringing to bear a certain set of techniques, to where doing projects will change the company or the organization that we are. We’re going to move from changing what we DO, to changing who we ARE. This is the conversation.

Transformation vs. Execution

It might be, you have a difference of opinion. It might be that your leadership is not interested in moving over into the sphere of an “agile organization”. It might be that your leadership is really just focused on, “Let’s deliver some projects. That’s good enough.” Meanwhile you’ve got a lot of project managers, a lot of talent on your teams, and a lot of champions saying, “No, we need to change who we are.” There’s a fundamental disagreement here. You have to decide AND AGREE which perspective you are pursuing, and neither one is wrong.

You might be discontent working in your organization, and you want to change who it is. You’re tired of all the organizational ickiness, and you’re ready to evolve, regardless of what techniques you use. Others of you might be like, no, no. I like my commute. I like my tenure. I’m okay with delivering better business results, but I’m not okay with changing my role, with changing my tenure.

You have to decide which perspective is YOURS, and which one your LEADERSHIP has? Are you a program that’s interested in becoming more agile, or are you a program that’s strictly interested in using agile techniques to achieve a short term goal?

Call to Conversation

Something for you to think about, something for you to TALK about with your peers and your leadership: are you mastering one agile circle, or are you interested in changing which agile circle you’re in?

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