Agile experts drive me crazy.
Just like in any other field of study or mastery, thought leaders suffer from knowing and doing what others are just getting started with. I should know; I’m the worst.
Triggered By “Mini Waterfall”
In the last month, the same conversation happened to me with two different agile experts on two unrelated projects. In both cases, we were talking about teams struggling to get started with this Agile business. Eventually, my colleague, the coach, the expert, the guide, the thought leader says, “No, they’re doing mini waterfall, and that’s not agile. They’re just doing the exact same process. Sure, they might be delivering value faster but you’re just doing things exactly the same way as before.”
Well, hold on a second there. Did you just say they’re delivering value SOONER? That your team is doing a little bit of the work in a little bit less time, instead of doing all the work all at once? That’s progress, celebrate that. You know, just because it doesn’t LOOK agile doesn’t mean that they’re not growing and making progress.
Here, let’s walk down memory and visit some of the places we passed along the way. Those places are named: Crawl, Walk, Run:
First, we Crawl
In particular, do you remember, agile expert, when you were at the crawl stage? I do. I remember when I had to retool my skills into delivering incremental progress.
I remember when I was eager to work with people from other departments but they did, weren’t here to work with me. They didn’t trust me. Trust was earned. I had to earn that trust.
So agile expert, you might have forgotten what it’s like to be at the crawl stage, because that’s where they’re at. Hopefully you’ll give them a little bit of breathing room, a little bit of time, find something to celebrate like, “Good job for using a time box for just the design activity. You’re learning the concept of a design of a time box. Now we can try evolving again.”
Then, we Walk
But hopefully over time they’re going to start pulling pieces together into the “walk” stage. This is where it’s going to be ugly, but it’s going to start yielding some results. People might start helping each other out a little bit. People might start throwing some new ideas on the table. People might start looking for ways to accelerate, and that’s huge. You want to celebrate that.
And guess what? This is where mini waterfall is ladies and gentlemen. Mini waterfall, using the exact same process in a compressed time frame that delivers incremental value is a big deal. Stop casting judgment simply because they’re not yet at the run stage.
Someday, we Run
This is the magic we’re going for. This is what we want. High performing teams that are producing amazing results, truly collaborating, and truly innovating. It does not happen overnight. It really doesn’t. Even if you put all the pieces into place, even if you get the right people in, it’s going to take time to grow into this. Everything we’re learned about high performance and human dynamics, and about skill development is that it’s about time. You didn’t learn how to ride a bike on the first try. You didn’t learn that foreign language in the first lesson. It takes time.
Encourage, Don’t Judge
And so, I’m going to challenge the agile people out there. Don’t be the impatient agile guy. “Crawl, walk, run”. Throw your team a bone. Give them some encouragement. Coach them. Do not judge them.