The PUSH of Agile Causes “Trance Formations”


Push-style “transformations” look good at first, and do not last long. What is actually going on there is this: TEMPORARY EFFECTS. It turns out that when you make a change in a workplace, like changing the brightness of lights for example, the productivity goes up temporarily and reverts back to the mean. It is not lasting. If you wait awhile and dim the lights down a little, same thing. Changes like this cause short-lived increases in productivity. When people are being observed as changes are being made, they temporarily change their behavior.

The cost of these effects is very real, however. And permanent (non-refundable) in nature.

What’s being sold as “Agile transformation” today are mostly short-run productivity increases that do not actually last. Temporary improvement. New procedures, new consultants, new teams, new practices, etc.

Observation. The short-run productivity increases from these temporary effects are all very misleading. They do not actually last; they are 100% temporary. There is no actual “transformation.” Furthermore, it is often highly prescriptive programs that produce these effects. When those highly prescriptive and authoritative (and expensive!) coaches vacate, the improvement goes with them. It’s all very temporary.

Starting with Lesson 4, I explained to you the dynamics of self-management. A little later on (in Lesson 14) I explained how making decisions triggers very high levels of engagement. And how engagement is where all the improvement actually comes from. All of these topics are related: decision-making, engagement, self management, and great results. One begets the other.

Engagement is the name of the game here, and you get it by inviting teams to make some decisions that affect their work. Scrum defines some decisions that only the teams are authorized to make. There’s a good reason for that.

If you are “helping” the team to make these decisions, you are discouraging self-management and self-organization. And this is where all the improvement (if any) is going to come from.

So stop doing that. You are generating disengagement and causing team members to “check out.”

You are creating “trance formations.



If you are party to the PUSH of Agile on teams without consent, you are part of the problem. You’re pushing Agile practices, and making most all the decisions for those who are affected. Or even worse, you are literally “looking the other way” while authority figures in the organization make decisions that the teams literally need to be making to stay engaged.

So stop that. And do these things, instead:

  1. Encourage executives and managers to refrain from making decisions for the teams that Scrum very clearly defines as belonging to those teams.
  2. And then, encourage teams to make the decisions that Scrum says are theirs (and theirs alone) to make.


And after a while, everything will start to improve. In a lasting way.

Because the teams are actually engaged in the difficult work of making decisions as a team.


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Engagement Is Everything


Self-organization in the enterprise context is self-management, and self-management is primarily the management of decision-making. There is no self-management without decision making. Self-management IS decision-making.

Decision-making is engaging. As more and more engagement is created, more and more of the “cognitive capacity” of the group becomes dedicated and focused on the work at hand. All of the KPI (key performance indicator) measures tend to improve when levels of engagement improve. Results and engagement are correlated. You cannot have one without the other.

This means the central concern of the executives (and the coaches they hire) must be the question of how to raise levels of employee engagement. This is the central concern. All other concerns are secondary.

The primary way to get more engagement is create more opportunities for employees and teams to be making decisions that affect them directly. As it turns out, making decisions is very engaging.

The Gallup polling organization issues a report every year that the workforce is about 20 to 25 percent engaged while at work. This is the same as saying that 75 percent of the payroll expense is a complete waste. That money is up in smoke. Poof. Gone. Raising the level of engagement at your company might be worth tens of millions of dollars per year in new productivity. Engagement and productivity are correlated.

The primary way to raise engagement levels is to do three very specific things:

  1. Very clearly define what decisions the teams are authorized to make. Be blunt and very clear and specific about this.
  2. Always trust them to make those “authorized decisions;” always encourage these decisions and never interfere from outside.
  3. Whenever and wherever you can, look for spots where you can invite the team to make additional decisions.

Item (1) is easily delivered when everyone in the situation (stakeholders, team, etc) agree to work under the rules of Scrum.

Failure to achieve item (2) is a primary reason why most Scrum implementations have BIG problems. Failure here is the cause of a very common Scrum-implementation problem, namely: executives and stakeholders do not play the Scrum game according to the rules. They routinely override team decisions, or even worse, they authoritatively make all decisions for them. To “help” them. This kind of “leadership” behavior KILLS self-management and engagement. It’s stupid. It works against your goals. Don’t do it. (NOTE: If you are not using Scrum but you have “authorized” teams to make certain very specific decisions, you cannot later interfere, and expect anything good to happen.)

We can push Agile practices on teams without respect for what they think or feel about. This is the standard way “Agile transformations” are “rolled out” today. This is a terrible idea. It does not work. It never did.

Can you see why?


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If you find value in these essays and find yourself curiously drawn to them, consider investigating OpenSpace Agility, and/or  following me on Twitter and/or joining the OpenSpace Agility group on Facebook