Agile during the time of WAR and PEACE

When dealing with the methodologies of working, we hear a lot of interpretation and opinions.
Much of this feedback is constantly shared by members of our community, talking about the success or failure rates when adopting an agile methodology in their companies.

One of the much-discussed topics amongst us professionals is the reason why some companies are able to achieve success in transformation and others can’t. More importantly, what causes the initial enthusiasm and desire for improvement to quiet down and revert to the initial disbelief in the effectiveness of the methodology.

Having said that, a while ago I decided to write an article on this topic. I gathered all my thoughts and inputs collected both from businesses as well as from individuals with the desire to adopt an Agile Mindset and keep improving their way of working.

The moment has come to shed some light on what I think about this phenomenon.

I don’t remember who started this saying, but we all hear this quite often, “Agile is not the Silver Bullet”.

Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash.

The bullet concept reminded me of Lev Tolstoy´s famous novel, War and Peace. While we are not building here a literary commentary of the Russian masterpiece, we cannot overlook some similarities between Tolstoy’s characters and our modern-day corporate employees. Although situated in different centuries, both categories characters struggle with problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture in the process of adapting to the new times and changes.

What I’ve been observing is that two moments that can define weather adapting agile will be a success or a failure. In my experience, I call these moments the Time of War and time of Peace.

Photo by Vitor Pinto on Unsplash.

The Time of Peace…

Time of peace is what I consider to be the moment of engagement, specially buy-in from all stakeholders. Teams are split between being reluctant or enthusiastic about the change. At this point, the focus is on the benefits: predictability, transparency, empowerments, delivery at a faster pace. Potential challenges are acknowledged as being part of the journey until the moment of full transformation occurs. Even so, everybody is doing their best to take up the principles and values of Agile. The collective energy level is high, and this improvement process creates a new opportunity for people to build something together and become better at what there are doing while becoming a united and more autonomous team.

Photo by Eddie Kopp on Unsplash.

Teams are committed to making this work. Often times they repeat the mantra “Others did it, so why couldn´t we?”.

What amazes me is that they truly believe in the concept and are in fact doing all the work. Obstacle after obstacles, they are adapting and making it work!

Until…

The Time of War…

Photo by Specna Arms on Unsplash.

As so often specific for human behaviour, when the going gets tough. Everything is going well until this moment, the moment doubts or non-existing doubts appear.

What could happen to create this momentum?

Like most things having to do with human behaviour, this question does not have a single and ultimate truth as an answer. Environment, faulty processes and human nature all factor in.

From what I observed so far, it all gets down to pressure, the catalyst for a time of War.
Corporate environment can often times be a major influence. Pressure from upper management to see quick outcomes or ROI (return on investment), constant nudges from stakeholders powered by the fear of failure push the teams in untested waters too fast.
Broken processes leading to lack of transparency and communication on what, why and how to do will create further confusion and isolation.

Ultimately, the natural resistance to change, pushing too hard will lead to team burnout. And as always, not people but the concept will be to blame. An exhausted group of people will prefer to go back to what they know instead of spending more energy on fixing or adapting the “unknown evil” – this being in our case, the use of the agile methodology.

So, what is there to do?

I consider the breaking point of an adapting process to be when I hear the words “This doesn’t work for me”. Beyond this, there is no point of return. This is the moment that can make the difference between making this work or not.

I am a true believer of step by step, incremental changes. A Big bang approach puts far too much pressure on people and allows no real time for the mind to perceive and adapt to the new requirements. With small steps and iterative improvements “Time of War” moments can be dismantled, like a ticking bomb.

Across our adapting, we will have many “Times of War and Peace” but we need to keep our eye on the ball and remember that each “Time of War” it’s just one more obstacle we need to pass before getting over the finish line and make these principles and values part of our DNA.

With every obstacle passed, it gets easier.

Don’t stop here. This is just the beginning of the continuous improvement path.

Would be great to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Last but not least, we’d like to give a special “thank you” to Anett Stoica for the help with the article revision and all her feedback. Thank you!

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