Mandated Collaboration: The Recipe for Botched Agile Adoptions

Here is a sure-fire way to virtually guarantee a failed adoption of agile or Scrum:

Simply have an authority figure, preferably the CEO, announce with great fanfare to the entire organization  that we are “going agile”.

To really make sure you definitely create a colossal train wreck of truly epic proportions, be sure to specify a hard date, the date when the entire organization is “going agile”.

The folks may start rolling their eyes, making sarcastic and sour faces, crossing their arms, shifting their feet…in other words, disengaging.

Why would mandating FORCED COLLABORATION be a bad idea? Why is it a bad idea to CHANGE EVERYTHING on people without asking them what they think? Why is mandated collaboration a very bad idea?

1. IT KILLS OPENNESS. It signals that whatever people actually think, feel, believe and want is NOT valued. (If we value what you want, think and feel, we’ll signal that by asking you what you want, what you think, etc.)

2. IT KILLS INITIATIVE. The very people who can help spread good agile in your organization are not getting a hearing. By this I mean the people who are capable of thinking for themselves, and have an independent streak in them. By announcing the “agile adoption” without checking in on what people might think, you send a signal that is OPPOSITE the Scrum value of Openness and OPPOSITE the Agile Manifesto value of [Individuals and Interactions]. Good job !

3. IT KILLS ENGAGEMENT. By announcing like that, you signal that AUTHORITY remains where it currently resides: with the command-and-control higher ups. Good luck getting people to self-organize themselves in that scenario. You just told them it is OK to check out and DISENGAGE, since authority is not about to be getting shared.

4. IT KILLS ANY SENSE OF CONTROL PEOPLE HAVE. By announcing like that, you make enemies of the people who might be allies. The people who CARE actually complain a lot, usually 1-to-1 … to colleagues and friends. Do you really think you are going to score points with people when you reduce their happiness? Do you really think you make people happier at work by making all of the decisions that affect them… at work? When you announce change like that, you botch the agile adoption by reducing the perceived sense of control people have. Good job !

5. IT KILLS ANY SENSE OF PROGRESS. By announcing like that, you kill any sense of progress. You make agile look, feel, and smell just like every other FAILED change initiative such as Six Sigma, CMMI, re-engineering, et al. Announcing authoritatively sends the clear signal that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

Summary

You cannot get people on the bus by barking the agenda and signaling that feedback is not valued.

That is the very antithesis of agile!

You get them on the bus by asking them what they think. Agile is getting a huge black eye as it “goes mainstream”. The same old patterns of command-control are being played out as new ‘agile’ terminology is being used as a cover story for disrespecting the people who do the work.

Add to this the fact there is always an ‘Agile coach’ to help well-meaning but misguided or misinformed “leadership” do whatever it wants with ‘agile’ (provided the price is high enough) and we have a train wreck of epic proportions being played out in enterprises around the world– especially in the USA.

Especially in Boston!

You might be asking: what is the solution? It is really very simple: Create a space where the folks get HEARD. The folks know the work. Why not ask them what they THINK about AGILE before rolling it out? Since this almost NEVER happens, 99% of ‘agile adoptions’ are train wrecks that associate with diminished feelings of control, diminished feeling of progress and diminished feelings of teamwork with “leadership” and authority. Did I mention diminished feelings of being respected?

 

The Culture Game book has an entire chapter devoted to the idea of opening the conversational space as a requirement for a successful agile adoption. The folks that do the work are going to get a hearing one way or the other. The only real question is how leadership chooses to manage the inevitable expression of what people want, what people think and what people feel.

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