I was teaching a private class a few weeks ago and a student in the class mentioned that his company had “already failed at Agile three different times.”
The way the statement was phrased really struck me. It made me very aware of my own opinions about Agile adoption and taught me a little about how this particular student, and possibly the organization, felt about adopting Agile.
What struck me was how easily the previous efforts were declared failures. If they truly had failed, there was no way I’d have been in the room teaching a private CSM class. It is possible that the company did not fully reach the perfect state of Agile nirvana and was not able to enjoy the bliss of a friction-less work environment populated with completely realized, high-performing teams of enlightened humans who delivered shippable product every sprint in a self-organized, cross-functional manner. Instead, they learned how not to transform the company… which is not a bad thing, because every misstep gets them one step closer to the solution that will open the lock (or at least a part of it.)
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Let’s say you have a guy who loves to sit on the couch binge watching old TV shows while jamming Ho Hos and Mountain Dew down his throat all day. He hears about people running marathons and decides this is for him. He goes to the mall… buys some expensive running shoes, a sweat suit, special moisture wicking socks… the whole bit. Then he stops by the “24 Hour Buffness” gym (which, shockingly is having a new membership special) and he signs up for a yearly membership. Then he goes home, puts on his new running shoes with the special moisture wicking socks, his new track suit, grabs his 24 Hour Buffness Membership Card, plops himself down on the couch, cracks open a fresh can of Mountain Dew and a brand new Ho Ho. Then he fires up Netflix and puts on The Rockford Files, Season 5, Episode 4… The one where Tom Selleck guest stars as horribly annoying Lance White. Two days and 12 episodes later, our man realizes he’s not been to the gym, is not in shape, but seems to have consumed his weight in Ho Ho’s. If you ask him about it, he’ll explain how his situation is different, he can’t just start exercising like everyone else, The Rockford Files is not going to watch itself and let’s face it, that Lance White episode is a critical moment in Detective TV History. No Lance White, no Magnum. No Magnum, no Simon and Simon/Magnum mash-up episode… and then where would we be?
The real question is, has the “get in shape and run a marathon” project failed at this point? Or has he just not figured out the right way to get him motivated to change his lifestyle yet?
Now… imagine you had a building with 1,000 people just like him. Has the entire building failed? No… we just haven’t figured out the right way to make it work yet.
Change of any kind is difficult. Just because it doesn’t completely stick on the first try doesn’t mean it has failed or it didn’t work. It just means you did not figure out how to make it work YET.
And if you happen to work in an organization that has coaching and/or training for Agile, take that as a very positive sign. If the organization is willing to commit at that level, it’s a very good start. There are many places out there that are still convinced they don’t need help figuring this out.
Whether you want to call it transformation, adoption, “Project Nimble”, or whatever… the journey from a traditional approach to Agile is a long one. Transformation has to occur at multiple levels and it requires deep change to work practices and work culture. It may not happen all at once, it may be too tall of an order to just completely go Agile all at once. You may need to do it in stages (Basecamps). Your organization, like many others, may go through a number of attempts before things begin to stick.
If you know the old way doesn’t work, you have to make a choice. This choice takes place at an individual as well as an organizational level. Do you want to keep working in the old way, with annoying, but familiar pain? Or do you want to take a chance at trying something different that just might offer you a path to a better world of work? If you want the latter, you need to be willing to work for it, be patient and commit to keeping at it until you reach your goals. And, like any good sales person will tell you, No just means you haven’t figured out the right way to ask the question yet. When you do find it, they’ll say, “Yes”.