Agile mindset: What do you expect Agile to do for you?

It’s difficult to resist modifying a popular saying with the following:

“Ask not what Agile can do for you, but what you can do for your organization.”

But, this sentiment is needed in order to transform and implement change.

In a recent workshop, I asked our group of roughly 20 attendees from approximately 10 different companies the following question: What do you expect Agile to do for you? Some answers included:

  • I expect agile to empower my teams and allow them to become high-performing, collaborative and constantly delivering
  • Provide a framework to show progress earlier than traditional waterfall type methodology
  • Gain efficiency and deliver more value to my customers
  • Provide open communication for entire project team

These appear to be very reasonable expectations and are typical responses I see.

As the attendees realized more over the course of the day, words used in exercises are chosen in a very specific manner. By asking the question of “What do you expect Agile to do for you”, it implies passivity and greater reliance on the process and rollout of Agile. This is a mindset I typically encounter when organizations are starting – or have stalled – with Agile.

While there is some value in a rollout of Agile, there is much greater value in transformation; Agile alone will not get you there. To transform, it requires some over-arching critical thinking and personal investment beyond implementing a set of tools and processes.

I frequently encounter organizations that understand this logically. However, there seems to be resistance, reluctance, and a little bit of fear (which can be healthy…) that paralyzes them for some reason (which isn’t healthy). They can’t move on.

So how do you get from “by ‘going Agile’, this is what I expect it to do for me” to transformation? It takes a level of vulnerability, retrospection, vision and a desire to just “go there.” To accomplish this, here are a few thoughts to help your efforts be more successful:

  • Exemplify a safe environment. Create a Working Agreement with those involved to “go there” when embracing change. Openly support each other with a level of authenticity.
  • Be transparent and give feedback. Be willing and have courage to respectfully say something if others are actively blocking progress or being a nay-sayer or passively resisting it by not contributing. Avoid being defensive if others call you out; listen to the words and ask questions.
  • Embrace empowerment. Seize the opportunity for the change. This starts not only within, but can also, whether we like it or not, come from peers and superiors. Grab it.
  • Have willingness to fail. Seldom do people say, “Let’s fail today!” Try something. Be logical about it. But try something. You can learn from both failures and successes, especially if you give yourself permission to explore and gain feedback through regular Retrospectives and Reviews with your stakeholders.
  • It Doesn’t Mean Big Bang. Incremental change allows for smaller and faster improvements over time. With a quicker feedback loop from your smaller releases, you can make adjustments and tweaks to gain a more regular and greater return over time.

So, did I set my attendees up for failure with asking my original question? Some may say yes. But, I do this to help illustrate a pattern I see: in general, I meet a lot of folks who understand the need for transformation from a logical perspective, but don’t act. It could be fear, especially if they’ve been burned or hurt in the past. It’s hard to be vulnerable. It’s difficult to look at things from other perspectives. That’s why transformation is challenging. Those who take the journey often see much more healthy returns over time.

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