Cultural transformation isn’t easy, even if the company you work for has already made the call for a change. Individuals are the vehicle to make it happen, but as human beings we are naturally resistant to change. What can we do to fight the anti-Agile patterns or the false Agile supporters?
I’ve just been through my fifth PI with Arm (just see the illustration at the top of this post to get a small idea of the numbers!), and I am very proud of the many progresses we’ve done with SAFe, as a whole. But a transformation of this magnitude with so many people involved is something that takes years, not months.
I heard someone say recently in a meeting We are Agile now. This is just not true. But it isn’t binary either. We aim to be Agile. But being agile isn’t a project. It is a lifestyle. And we people, including myself, resist change to a degree, as we’re stuck in our ways. This is especially obvious in senior people with many years of experience, which is kind of ironic: seniority means expertise and knowledgeability, but also that it’ll be harder to make these individuals flexible as they should. You can’t teach an old dogs new tricks, right?
Let’s remark some of the obvious problems we have at the moment in this long process of transformation. Not in all teams, not in all aspects. As I said, it is not binary. Not black or white.
Anti-Agile patterns identified in our world
- Working in old-fashioned projects instead of products: bound to budgets, deadlines and “transitions” instead of continuous support.
- Did anyone say addressing technical debt? Innovation? Self-development? Not everything is delivery! They’re all a circle of positive feed. But you feed one and abandon the others, and the whole thing falls apart.
- Unrealistic so-called MVPs that are not MVPs, with deadlines beyond any logical reason. The typical this has to happen or this must be done by approach. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Maybe we should call Harry Potter to cast a spell to make it happen. It is probably the most realistic way to make it happen. Yes, I’m being ironic.
- Treating individuals as resources without including them in planning and discussions. It is, effectively, patronising and deprecating their professionalism.
- The previous point is related as well to what the team feels motivated about. Make the people work on what their passion is, and you’ll have good performance and quality. Allocate them in whatever has to be done and you’ll get disengagement, disappointment and leavers.
- And to continue the point above again: teams are expected to provide estimations about initiatives they must work on without knowing much about them as they haven’t been part of the discussions about them.
- Detached stakeholders or areas of the business who demand without knowing what they’re asking for and refuse to listen to the development team’s voices.
Now, when it comes to fighting these anti-Agile behaviours, we need to have into account all the victories that we have also had during these four last PI’s. Because victories matter!
- Scrum teams with interdependencies, when handled correctly on a personal level and regular interactions, translate into great teamwork.
- In some cases, predictability has improved massively.
- We have developed a strong strategy regarding QA and automation testing.
- We have public, accessible definitions of ready and definition of done.
- Our new agreed Kanban flow speaks for itself.
- The process we have for our Operational support / Technical debt queue is a well-oiled machine now.
- We are able to keep a good, updated public log of our retrospective actions.
- The team is consistently able to provide honest feedback during the retrospectives, which have become more relevant than ever. We are all very proud of being constructively vocal about things that work and things that don’t.
- Team culture is absolutely at its peak, with a great camaraderie, but we always go for more. Remove all ego. We got each other’s back. Most importantly, we enjoy working with each other. Team culture is always triumphant over everything else!
- We have become extremely aware of the importance of leaving relevant documentation and a strong UX strategy.
- It is extremely moving to see other teams having us as reference and adopting our working patterns. THIS is what Agile is all about.
- Already mentioned but remarking again due to its importance: we do not send updates, we publish everything. Our work, its victories and its failures are an open window to whoever wants to see it.
So, what can your team do to fight anti-Agile patterns?
- Fight back. Speak up. Be assertive. Prove your point with facts and reason. That is very, very powerful. Do not just have a rant about things that don’t work. Focus in the solution, not the problem.
- If you know what’s not working, change it. If something works, leave it as is. Just act on it.
- Demand planning to happen at the right time with the right people. Refuse to work on what you don’t understand at all or ask to understand, then you can work.
- Put the foot down on quality. That is the primary focus of our work. Releasing so-so quality features will always come back to you, bigger and dirtier.
- Understand that failure is not wrong. Leave room for it. It’s not about not failing, it’s about how you deal with failure and learn from your mistakes.
- Do not allow non-Agile individuals or sectors of your business or stakeholders put a stain on your work. Negotiate instead. Spread the good practices.
- Embrace bureaucracy instead of hating it. Just rationalise it and make it effective. It is a powerful ally, not an enemy.
- Your self-development is as important as the delivery. Spending two hours every week reading articles about an amazing approach to coding or the latest trend in QA practices is never a waste of time. Experiment, even if one specific day it gets nowhere. You will get somewhere.
- Take pride of what you do. Care like crazy.
I could write a whole book about it, but I’ll leave it there for now. These are the obvious points I wanted to remark at this stage, knowing that it is bound to our level of maturity. I am extremely excited to see this in a year from now.
Personally, I love when cultural change happens. It is just magical.
Never give up the fight. Create awesome features, with quality, with value, with pride. But most importantly, have fun and learn while doing it. Be your own master. Fight the anti-Agile Grinch, no matter where it might be coming from.