Mandated Agile, Part 2

I have a lot of heat around how Agile gets implemented in typical organizations. I’ve been ranting about the evils and oxymoronic nature of mandated collaboration [1]. Let me explain.

When I say mandated collaboration, I mean the prescription of both Agile adoption and specific practices.

I am clarifying my messaging here: naming a clear Agile direction is OK. However, stop right there. Prescribing practices as non-negotiable mandates and prescriptions is not OK, precisely because it kills engagement, the very fuel of progress….

…businesses are facing all kinds of pressures. The pace of change, driven by technology, is speeding up. So not just lots of change, but the velocity of change itself is intensifying. This is making is essential for enterprises to become highly adaptive. Right away. This means lots of group/team/org learning or what I call Tribal Learning has to be taking place all the time. AGILE CAN HELP.

So: when I say mandated collaboration [1] is dumb, I am NOT saying mandating an Agile direction is dumb. FAR FROM IT. This is exactly what leadership needs to do.

Leadership actually needs to do several things:

  • Explain the business case for Agile. Explain the challenges the business is facing in terms of competition, pricing pressure, obselete products etc
  • Make it clear the enterprise is heading into an Agile journey– an epic adventure. This part is not optional.
  • Invite everyone involved into the process of writing the Agile story. Communicate that leadership DOES NOT have all the answers and is looking FOR THE VERY BEST IDEAS PEOPLE HAVE to make the move to Agile genuine, authentic, rapid, and lasting.
  • Make it plain that everything that is tried as an Agile practice at the start is an experiment, and is optional, and going to be inspected, and is not set in stone. For example, if the org is giving Scrum a try, it is an experiment, and subject to inspection. If an off-the-rack practice like Scrum cannot be tailored and customized to fit well, it will be THROWN OUT and we will try something else that might work. We might even “roll our own” practices, using the Agile Manifesto as our guidance.

By doing it this way, the people doing the work can engage, and have a strong sense of control and of progress [2]. Prescribing practices makes no allowance for what people want, what people think, and what people feel. It reduces engagement and causes people to check out and disengage.

So leadership makes it plain we are moving into an Agile stance as a company. So far so good. Next: Leadership then frames the initial use of ANY practice as an experiment, one that will be inspected for usefulness and effectiveness in service to the stated aims of the Agile adoption.

This is the exact opposite of what usually happens. Usually, the following happens, usually after a small pilot test of Agile with a small team:

  • Authority says we are going Agile
  • Authority says we are doing Scrum, or Kanban, of SAFe, or some other method. The message is that this is not negotiable.
  • A coach is selected by authority on the basis of expertise with the prescribed practices. Typically, Scrum skills. The coach is imposed on the people, just like Scrum.
  • Workers are triggered to disengage by the experience of a low sense of control and progress. They learn that the goal is fuzzy, the rules are fuzzy, the way we track progress is vague. Participating is not opt-in. The Agile adoption is not an enjoyable game because there is no opportunity to opt-in, because it’s not an invitation. Far from it. Agile and Scrum (for example) are a mandate and a prescription.

Folks, this is at best misguided. I’ve explained why in previous posts [1].

It kills engagement, the very fuel of a rapid and lasting Agile adoption.

The good news is, we can prescribe and mandate Agile without mandating collaboration. Leaders can frame the move to Agile as a necessary direction, and then invite everyone to bring the very best they have into the game, and help write the story. Authority can and must frame Agile practices as trials, and as experiments, which is code for saying that initial practices are not prescriptions from authority, and that everyone gets a hearing and will be asked what they want, think and feel about the experience of using of specific practices.

If we do not do this, we can expect the very poor results so-called Agile adoptions are getting after 12 months, 18 months, 24 months. The role of the coach is huge here. We need to stop being party to mandated Agile practices, and…

“Build projects around motivated (opted-in) individuals, give them the environment (the safe space) and support (the authorization) they need, and trust them to get the job done. [4].”

Related Links:

[1] Mezick, Daniel J. Mandated Collaboration: The Recipe for Botched Agile Adoptions. Blog Post. (link)

[2] Mezick, Daniel J. How Games Deliver Happiness. Blog post. (link)

[3] The Agile Manifesto Principles. Web page. 5th item listed. (link)