It’s amazing the number of constraints many of us choose live under. We can’t do agile here because our company is organized around functional managers. We can’t do agile here because we have a strict, document driven, phase gated process. These things may very well be true today, but do they have to be true tomorrow?
I can’t begin to tell you how many organizations I work with that have policies, that when pressed, aren’t nearly as ‘set in stone’ as we’re led to believe. There is safety in following the rules… in not rocking the boat… but real change is only going to happen when we challenge our constraints, and choose to live under a new set of rules…
Here are a few common constraints I see quite often, that need to be challenged… especially if you are thinking about giving agile a try:
- We have too many dependences… How about trying to break a few of them?
- We have too many specialists… How about helping these folks learn something new?
- We have to provide accurate estimates… How about scoping projects to fit into a predefined time-box?
- We have to track quality metrics… How about we focus our energy on not building defects in the first place?
- We have functional silos… How about we build cross-funtional teams from our existing silos?
- We have to document everything… How about we build confidence we can deliver, by actually delivering?
One of the things that is becoming clear to me is that these kinds of constraints are not merely policy issues, they are people issues… they are safety issues. People put process and controls in place to stay safe. They have to make sure they get to keep their jobs when stuff doesn’t go as planned. It’s not my fault, I followed ‘The Process’.
The trick here is to figure out what constraints we have to live with… and what constraints we need to break. For those we need to break, how can we break them in the least threatening way possible, keeping people safe along the way. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Niccolo Machiavelli that I think is insightful and very applicable:
“We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders. This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience. Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.”