One nice thing about being in the consulting industry is that you typically end up with a little downtime around the holidays. Most of our customers slow down, and even if people are still working, there often isn’t much appetite for change. For me, the year can get pretty noisy and it’s really tough to get contiguous time to sit and think. I’ve grown to appreciate this time of year as a time to get my thoughts in order, figure out what’s important, and decide how I want to move forward. It’s really a sort of built in time to retrospect on the year past and plan a little for what lies ahead.
I’ve spent the past few days sitting in my office mind-mapping and getting some of this stuff onto paper. I’ve been thinking about LeadingAgile as a company and what it means to shape it’s future… what do I want, what do our people want… how do we build the best company we can possibly build? I’ve been thinking about our approach to agile, how to make it better, and how to communicate our emerging models to the community in a meaningful way. As our thinking has progressed, it’s become way more difficult to write contextually in the short format of a blog post. That poses some interesting challenges for us as we move into 2015.
The themes that keep coming back to me as I noodle on this stuff are around managing risk and uncertainty, how to decouple teams, how to minimize dependencies, how to focus on flow of value, and really how to get people to see how to do this and what’s the change management processes necessary to move the needle forward with companies in a meaningful way. I think the mechanics and value of team level agile are well understood at this point in our evolution. I think that we are starting to see some interesting scaling models that will help some companies some of the time get better business outcomes.
I think that the main challenge going into 2015 isn’t a better articulation of values and principles or a better articulation of potential scaling patterns… I think that the main challenge is engaging companies where they are today… deeply understanding why they are the way they are and their real underlying constraints… and helping them craft change management strategies for safely and pragmatically moving forward. As an industry we have rejected the status quo of the waterfall based SDLC. We’ve embraced agile and many of the emerging patterns for agile at scale. I don’t think we are talking enough about how we get there.
Part of the problem is belief based and part comes down to raw economics. As a community, we often want to believe that if we point people in the right direction, and get them to believe the right things, they will self-organize into the patterns we are prescribing. They’ll figure it out along the way. I think this will work with some companies some of the time… but many organizations are suffering from some severe constraints and timing issues that have to be managed. These companies have people steeped in the old way of doing things and not much incentive to put themselves at risk for a new model of dubious merit.
The other thing that gets in our way are the economics around training and certification. As business people, consulting and training companies, are looking to reduce risk, keep people busy, and stay profitable. Our market wants training, they want certification, and people want to believe that if you send folks to a few days of indoctrination, they’ll come back with the necessary skills to do agile. I think that educating people on how work within an established framework is valuable. Training people on a model that is not established, and expecting them to go back into their companies and lead the implementation of the framework, is doubtful.
I think as a community, we have to recognize that many of the companies that want to adopt agile are a long way from having the infrastructure, management paradigm, culture and practices to actually effectively do agile. Sometimes we have to meet them where they are and help them get them to where they need to be. One of the toughest pills to swallow as an agile company, helping other companies adopting agile, is that early on we might have to build a plan… even a Gantt Chart… for how the transformation is going to proceed. Sometimes getting traction and gaining trust involves playing by someone else’s rules for a while as you get started.
So… as I think about 2015 and the challenges that lie ahead for LeadingAgile and our industry… I’m going to try to lead some conversation around the intermediate states as a company transitions to agile. I’m going to try to get more explicit around the patterns of transformation and how a company goes from point A to point B or C on that journey. I don’t think that all of this exploration is going to be via the blog. We’ve build some infrastructure on the site to accommodate video, white papers, and presentations and we’ll try to communicate in whatever medium is fastest to market and makes the most sense.
Not sure exactly what all this means, but we are going to explore some mediums we haven’t explored yet, and try some new things. We’ll probably makes some mistakes and say some stupid stuff along the way. When you catch it, just let us know and we’ll do what we can do to get it cleaned up. There is a reason we decided to call our blog post Field Notes. We have an amazing client list and some customers that are really committed to working along side us to figure all this out. It’s time we start sharing some of what we are learning. The site as a whole will be the channel for this, but we’ll try to put pointers on the blog to keep everyone posted.
Anyway… hope everyone is tee’ing up for a great 2015. We wish everyone the best and hope you have a great new year!