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Why are you Failing with Agile?

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Why are you Failing with Agile?

Okay… you’re a few months into your agile roll-out. You did all the right stuff before you got started. Got sign-off from the execs… check… got team members trained… check… identified a pilot project… check… hired an agile coach… check. Why then… after all this time, effort, and money… are we still struggling with the fundamentals? Why can’t we seem to get over the hump?

It seems that there is always someone… sometimes there are a lot of someones… that just don’t seem to get it. They just can’t let go of their trusted MRD… they can’t seem to get past the idea that agile teams don’t do Gantt charts. These folks want to know exactly when their project is going to be done… what it is going to cost… and what they are going to get for their money.

How do we respond to these people? Hey… agile can’t be any worse that what we are doing now? Agile is all about trust… you just need to trust that this new way of doing things is better. Just give us a few sprints and we’ll prove to you that this new way works. I promise, you’ll like it.

Put yourself in that other person’s shoes for a moment… your Product Manager was promoted and given big fat raises based on the insight and detailed analysis she put in those MR docs. The VP of Engineering got where he is today by making sure systems were designed fully up front. The Director of the PMO has built his entire career around applying the processes found in the PMBOK…not to mention the bonus he got for becoming a PMP in the first place.

These folks know something is broken… they know that we are making product development too hard…that is whey they let the team give this agile stuff a try in the first place. The problem is that… at the end of day… these folks are on the hook for making sure the organization delivers. When they are under pressure they fall back to what they know. They dance with the girl they came with.

It’s important when we introduce something new that we spend some time figuring out what the people around us need to be successful. These folks have families… they have kids in college… they have financial obligations. You are not just asking them to change… you are asking them to put their livelihood at risk. People don’t resist change because they are bad people or because they just don’t get it. Chances are… at some level… they are afraid.

More than likely… there is some fundamental concern that you have not addressed. Until you understand what your detractors need to be successful… and work to satisfy that need… on their terms… they are going to continue to stand in your way. They will continue to hold you back and resist the changes you are trying to implement. If you had so much to lose… you’d probably do the same thing.

Trust me doesn’t cut it until you have earned that trust. Agile will help you get there… but you know what… you might have to let them have their Gantt chart… you might have to let them have their MRD… until you can make it safe for them to let it go.

Next Is your Organization out of Alignment?

Comments (3)

  1. Rod Claar

    Nice post Mike. I can't underscore this strongly enough. When there is a person who just does not seem to fit, most often they have a fear or concern that has not been recognized or addressed. As an agile coach, I'm trying to figure out what that is and coaching the organization leaders to model that too.

  2. Mike Cottmeyer

    Thanks for the comment Rod… I would appreciate your thoughts on my last statement regarding the MRD and the Gantt… how do you handle people hanging on to traditional artifacts on your coaching engagements?

  3. Rick Austin

    Mike, your thoughts really resonated with me and relates to some recent work being done using techniques found in the book “It Starts With One”.

    You are spot on with the tendency of people to use the capabilities they already have to succeed, to use what has been successful in the past. One of the traps we get into when creating change is to forget the journey we had to travel to get to our new enlightened state. We forget how painful the journey might have been because we now “get it”. Each person operates based upon their mental map of the world. We often ask for change but don’t invest sufficient time and energy to help change that mental map.

    We find ourselves in a situation where we move from doing what was the right thing and doing it well to doing a new right thing but not doing it well and often doing it badly. It takes time to master a new skill or approach. After years and years of doing something the old way, we find this shift to be very uncomfortable. Going from competent to incompetent, at least temporarily, is an unappealing proposition. People must believe that there exists a path that will take them through doing a new thing poorly to doing it well. Without this people will continue to do the thing they are competent at even if it is not the right thing to do.


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