Site icon Joanna Vahlsing, PMP

Necessity is not the mother of invention?

Two full weeks later, and I’m still reeling from the Agile Alliance’s Agile2016 conference. I’ve been fortunate enough to share out my learnings and perspective within my organization and externally to a couple of Meetup groups to keep the post-conference energy, enthusiasm, and momentum alive. The Women in Agile Slack channel is also alive and well with more and more women joining daily.

A tweet from the Agile Alliance on Stephen Denning’s What’s Missing In the Agile Manifesto: Mindset where he recaps a panel discussion at Agile Europe 2016, and it summarizes nicely the atmosphere of Agile2016 where thought leaders were sharing that an agile organization is more about the culture and enablement of an organization than about specific processes and tools.

There’s a tie-in here to the articles from a few months ago on the “Death of Agile” that I haven’t quite worked out yet because like with any product, when its market is saturated with supply (like we’re starting to see with Agile processes and tools), something new (or even just a new name) can enter and cause disruption.

Back to Denning’s post – Todd Little sums up the importance of the mindset nicely:

That’s the challenge we face in keeping Agile truly Agile. The core of Agile is recognizing that we need to get to and maintain an Agile mindset. If I have an organization with an Agile mindset, and really rock-solid product management, Agile processes and tools will evolve out of that. If you have the Agile mindset and an awesome connection with your customers and are solving their problems, things will evolve in the right way. You won’t even realize you’re being Agile. It’s just good business. – Todd Little

Denning then adds his comment, which was similar to the comments he made while on the panel at Agile2016.

If you have the right mindset, it hardly mattered what tools and processes you were using, the Agile mindset made things come out right. Conversely, if you didn’t have an Agile mindset, it didn’t matter if you were implementing every tool and process and system exactly according to the book, no benefits flowed. – Stephen Denning

It’s Ray Arell’s comment that prompted the title for this blog because he raises the point that I haven’t heard too much about when it comes to mindsets – the traditional mindset of Managers to make resources scarce to create innovation.

The traditional management mindset, if we look at what they are teaching in MBA classes in business schools both in the U.S. and worldwide, is a really nasty theory of constraints, and scarcity and cost-cutting and the feeling that, “Hey if I just make the resources scarce, innovation will pop out.” – Ray Arell

He goes on to explain that the issue is that we’re running up against the idea that management has put themselves at the top, and he suggests that we need to look at models where the organization serves those on the “front-line.”

We need to learn from companies like Starbucks. In the hierarchy of Starbucks, the person making the coffee—the barista–is on the top. Everyone else in that company is supporting that individual. Everything else is in service of that. What we have to change in the management paradigm is that if we have a team delivering, the managers work for their team. It’s their job to provide them what they need on a daily basis. It’s not the team delivering to the managers. It’s the managers delivering to the team. Until everyone has that mindset, we’re going to have a lot trouble in Agile. We will declare, “We’re Agile,” and we’ll have Agile T-shirts, and so on, but unless the managers have an attitude of enablement of the teams, the teams won’t be Agile at all. – Ray Arell

Years ago, when I was at a different organization that was going through a transformation from Waterfall to Agile, we (the managers and leaders of the organization), called ourselves the Enablement Team – we were there in service of the organization and those doing the work. It was hit and miss because for those managers and leaders who didn’t adjust their current worldview to the one needed to support those doing the work, it was a struggle, and “just another thing to do” vs. “business as usual” that this panel describes.

Todd Little also offered these words of warning:

When I think of agility, I think of it in terms adaptability. Agile shouldn’t be saying that this is the way things have to be. And sadly, this is the way a lot of Agile has been packaged. Consultants will say: “We have the answer for you. Follow these rules.” True Agile is about evolving and being able to adjust. It has to grow organically. And that takes a lot of engagement and ownership from the managers and the individual teams. – Todd Little

The panel then starts to discuss “How Do You Acquire an Agile Mindset”?

Denning and Hendrik Esser share the importance of storytelling because “it’s often the only way in which you get people to break out of their current way of looking at the world and imagine something different.

Esser also offers that the language that we use is another approach.

The way you talk, the words you use, the visualizations you use can shape your thinking. If you keep using the traditional language and visualizations, then it will be very hard to change the traditional mindset. – Hendrik Esser

Denning and Steve Holyer point out that learning by doing is also key and that changing the mindset takes time. Denning shares a really funny video of someone riding a backwards bicycle.

Day after day, for eight months, he tried to ride it and couldn’t. Then suddenly one day, he found that he could. It was an overnight thing. The day before he couldn’t. The day after, he could. Suddenly he could ride the bicycle. In Agile, we also see that kind of phenomenon—people knowing what they should be doing, but in fact unable to break their habits and so they do the opposite. Knowing intellectually what you need to do is not the same thing as knowing intuitively and instinctively what you need to do and execute it fluently. – Stephen Denning

The panel closes with what the problem is with “Fake Agile,” and what they report are cases where teams they’re working with haven’t read the Manifesto, usually can’t name one of the 12 Principles. Arell sums this up nicely:

These teams are striving towards something but I am not sure that we have the same compass that’s locked on to the same goal. – Ray Arell

Denning also suggests that we have to be willing to point out “fake Agile” – that we need to be honest and have the courage to do so. His worry is that people have a failed understanding of the objective of Agile – “twice the work in half the time.”

I worry when I hear talk about Agile as: “Twice the work in half the time.” As Tobias Mayer has pointed out, this can come to mean: how to work really hard and be very busy doing things that may or may not add value. Instead, true Agile is more about radically improved effectiveness: e.g. “doing half the work while producing twice the value.” – Stephen Denning

I like the way that Denning ends the post with a summary of why Agile is a paradigm shift in management – back to the culture and the enablement of the organization – it’s not just Daily Stands, Two-Week Time Increments, Retrospectives, Kanban Boards, etc. It’s also my belief that what Denning is hitting on is why we sometimes hear “teams are doing Agile great, but outside of the team, no-way” and “we tried Agile, it just died on the vine.”

We also need to recognize that Agile is a paradigm shift of management. Management was one of the great inventions of the 20th Century and improved the material well-being of billions of people on the planet. It was a wonderful discovery. But as the century wore on, we noticed certain problems and limitations of command-and-control management and we kept developing fixes and adjustments to the basic model. Eventually in 2001, the authors of the Agile Manifesto at Snowbird figured out that you couldn’t “fix” command-and-control management. We actually needed a fundamentally different way of doing this kind of knowledge work. And it turned out that it was not just a better way of developing software. Although the guys at Snowbird may not have realized it, they had stumbled on a fundamentally different and better way of running whole organizations. – Stephen Denning

After the conference, I also started reading Reinventing Organizations, so expect to see more on organizational culture and enablement because its a topic that I’m becoming passionate about.

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