The Bloom is Off the Agile Rose.
"The Bloom is Off the Agile Rose." You could call this a water-cooler comment, it was one that I heard a little while ago and it has been lurking in the back of my mind since. I will admit my first thought was ’how do they know?’ the team that this comment came from never succeeding in getting anywhere near to agile – they had a few teams doing iterative work, but the rest of the over-all team viewed agile as an R&D only thing – it doesn’t impact them and it was never really rolled out. Then when I read this article on CIO.com -Why_Agile_Isn’t_Working_Bringing_Common_Sense_to_Agile_Principles I found myself pondering the current wave of ‘agile bashing’ that is perceived as happening by many in the agile world. I’m not going to respond directly to the points made in the CIO article, as there is a simple summary – what they were doing wasn’t agile – not sure what it was, but it wasn’t agile. There is a great dissection of the article and the agile viewpoint here: Conquering the Chaos CTO Blog . So what is it that struck me about both of these – that although some people may view both the rose statement and the article as being anti-agile and containing a lot of agile anti-patterns, to me they both represent something that any coach will have come across, the anti-change pattern. I’ve been through other business transformation exercises as well as agile adoption and familiarity with transformation makes me think that neither of these is so much about agile, but are more a representation of resistance to change.
There is a clear common issue in transformation with respect to people not wanting to adopt the new changes and it can be a difficult one to overcome. This reticence can occur in multiple ways, some that I’ve commonly witnessed are as follows:
The Cynic. (Naysayers say Nay!)
People who don’t think that the new ideas the transformation brings will work, often with the view that it may make their day to day life harder, more transparent or just generally not as nice. The cynic often sits back and waits for things to fail so they can turn round with an I told you so, at most they may change the names of what they have always done to something that sounds like it should fit in. Some will appear to pretty much sabotage any changes so that they can carry on doing things they want to.
The Pocket Veto
Sorry my team cannot transform at the moment as we are so busy earning loads of money for the business and we deliver on time with quality anyway. If you make us change we won’t be able to deliver on time until x (insert time scale of your own choosing). Typically this will be from a team who are stuck in crisis mode – they continually jump from crisis to crisis, they are always overloaded. There is never time for change, never time to get it right first time, but always time to rescue a mess up by heroic effort. They will try to avoid change, and always make some form of ransom the business style attempt to get agreement. Often this is a team whose management structure is very controlling and will micro manage the team extensively.
Closely related to the pocket veto, the fief is typically a micro-managed team, who won’t change as they represent a fiefdom for the manager, any changes that increase the power of the lord of the fief may be accepted, but all else will suffer from a pocket veto. The Fiefdom often also follows the pocket veto pattern of doing the same thing they have always done but changing names. One real issue with the Fiefdom is that they will see some transformations as another chance to grow their power and control. A good example of this would be Scrum – this is fantastic for the manager of a fiefdom, they will happily ‘adopt’ scrum but rather than nurturing the team and allowing them to grow and micro manage themselves, the method will be abused to provide more micro-management than ever before.
Apparently an early adopter of any change, expect everything except transparency. They will have jumped in and changed as soon as you kick off the transformation effort, but then you will be met with a wall of yeses and no visibility of evidence demonstrating the change. All discussions will include the right vocabulary for an early adopter, but will somehow ring hollow.
The Obstinate One
Will give no real reason not to change, may spend some time listening to the evidence as to why things need to change and then just refuse to, continuously. May be a member of the ‘old guard’ we’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and it’s always worked I’m not changing.
The Tired One
They’ve been transformed out, there has been so many transformations thrown at them they are just too ‘done’ with change to consider this one. In a corporation that is trying to consistently improve at too fast a pace you may find many of these, good staff included – they will reach a saturation point at which they start to think, maybe I can just be slow and this change will be superseded by the next one.
For most of these that rose is probably lurking around but as a tint for their glasses – they appear to forget all the prior long nights, work on weekends, missed releases or whatever other symptom triggered the change.
The difficult bit is how to tackle these different methods of avoiding change.
One prime is coaching, just as a good manager mentor’s the teams he works with hopefully grooming his own replacement, the coach should try to do the same with the manager. Can the coach entrench enough knowledge about the change that the manager passes an epiphany point and have enough understanding of the new idea that they could coach it?
Coping with Change Saturation
This one can be pretty tricky – first suggested idea would be to use a gentle touch, see if any subset of the change resonates with the teams current view points. Can that subset be adopted and then the team may be more receptive to coaching as to the rest of what you are doing. Peer to peer networking is another channel to try, can you bring some earlier adopters into communities of practice that have contact with the teams.
Bringing the Hammer Down.
There are times when the final resort is to turn up the heat and push hard for change, particularly with obstinate teams, but use this with caution – for it to work you need to have full support of upper management, and also the upper management need to have a thorough understanding of the transformation. In a big company, it will be very hard for a senior manager to have detailed knowledge that would spot a blagger – they usually have a whole host of items they are trying to juggle, you need to be as understanding with the seniors as you do with every other person in the company. Bringing the hammer down may force a team’s hand to change, but be very careful that it doesn’t back fire, resentment by the team is likely to mean slow or poor adoption. Before going the whole hog and forcing a change could you have found a part way solution – for example working with senior management to clear an impediment to change such as ‘over load’ being used in a pocket veto
So I touched on this above, but it’s worth a reminder – clearing obstructions for the teams, including ones that may not appear directly related to the transformation you are working is a very effective way to get teams moving and engaged.
Good Luck and have Fun!