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Are We Solving The Right Problem?

Mike Cottmeyer Chief Executive Officer
Reading: Are We Solving The Right Problem?

It’s been a funny transition the past few years as agile has gone more and more mainstream. You used to have to start every talk with an explanation of the Agile Manifesto… you don’t have to do that anymore, people generally get it. You used to have to start every talk with an explanation of why waterfall has failed… you don’t have to do that anymore, people for the most part realize waterfall has failed.

Nowadays, most organizations are doing some sort of agile. Most folks have experimented with Scrum. Many folks are even moving past Scrum to Kanban or extending Scrum with SAFe or Disciplined Agile Delivery. Nowadays, I find myself starting off talks trying to debunk agile myths and explaining why people are failing with Scrum and struggling extending it into the enterprise.

As a quick aside… for those of you that have been following LeadingAgile (the blog) for any length of time… you know I haven’t been writing much of anything for the past few years. I’ve been pretty much consumed with building LeadingAgile (the company). Over the past few years, we’ve grown from just me to a company of 26. That’s 17 coaches, a full back office staff of 8, and me.

My role over the past few years has transitioned from day-to-day coaching with organization and teams, to more executive coaching, sales, and company leadership. We have the infrastructure and sales pipeline to potentially double our coaching staff in 2014. It’s been a fun ride and I’m enjoying the new role… but for now, let me tell you why I’ve digressed.

Getting to meet with executive teams over the past few years has taught me that companies are struggling with a very different problem than Scrum was originally intended to solve. Most of the language we use in agile is all about adaptation. I seem to recall Jeff Sutherland talking about operating inside the decision making loop of your competition. Adapt faster and you will win.

Most executives I’m meeting with nowadays aren’t fundamentally trying to solve the adaptability problem. We could make an argument that they *should* be solving this problem… but that’s really my point. With Scrum we are advocating a solution to the problem we *want* our customers to solve, not really the problem they are actually *trying* to solve. As a result, the messages aren’t resonating.

Many organizations we are working with have 10 times more to do than they can ever possibly get done. They have a business model and customers that demand fixed dates, fixed cost, and at least some idea of what they are going to get for their time and money when it comes time to deliver the product. These companies aren’t trying to use agile to inspect and adapt and change direction.

These companies are trying to use agile to get visibility into what’s happening, drive up communication, and get things done faster. They are looking for predictability over adaptation… they need to ensure quality… and they need to get product into market faster. Predictability is really though first and foremost the problem most on their mind. Figuring out where to go and what to build… not so much.

I’ve done a really poor job the past few years communicating to the community what we’ve been learning by helping our customers be successful. I’ve got a few posts queued up that will help remedy that. I’ve also got some help on the back end, not only to help get some of this content into print, but to offload some of the business building I’ve been so focused on the past few years.

Next post I’m going to explore the first question I ask a room full of execs when i get invited to speak. Why are you considering moving to agile… why is it important to you. Let’s see how it goes… should be an interesting conversation.

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Comments (4)

  1. John Peltier

    Good post, Mike – and congrats on the impressive company growth! In your experience, how often are the mindsets aligned vs. not? Do you encounter leadership teams seeking predictability, quality and speed-to-market but relying on engineering teams predisposed to inspect-and-adapt…at least, as frequently as I expect you do?

  2. P. Fallon Jensen

    Congratulations on the company growth, Mike. Looks like you’ve got your feet under you. From a business perspective, do you think you got bogged down in the tactical vs strategic leadership of your company? Moving forward, what role(s)/responsibilities do you expect will be your main focus as you potentially double your coaching staff? Are you trying to “go back to your roots” or reach for a widerv-view managerial style?

  3. Fredrik Vestin

    This is really insightful. I find this post 8+ years after it was written and I experience the exact same thing. Organizations are not adopting agile to learn what the market wants, or be able to quickly adapt, but primarily to increase speed of delivery and predictability.


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