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The Flying Trapeze

Adam Asch
Reading: The Flying Trapeze

I’ve never attempted to try the trapeze. I have friends that do it and love it, but I’m not so sure it’s for me. I’m pretty adventurous about many things, but flying around at what seems like 100ft seems to be a little risky.

Trying new things can be scary and flying around on some pretty thin wires seems that way to me. But it does make me wonder… What would the circumstances have to be for me to at least attempt to try?

Approaching the Trapeze

The first thing that comes to mind is structure. I may be a little heavier than I have been in the past. So I wonder, will that thing hold me up? It looks kind of rickety. It certainly creaks and groans a bit when someone is flying through the air. Even though it looks a bit frail, I have to admit it seems to work.

It’s a pretty close second, but I have to say that a safety net seems like a pretty good idea. I have seen many performances without a net. While it certainly heightens the fear and excitement factor, I know that the folks without a net have been honing their skills for a very long time and are unlikely to fall – though they sometimes do. Okay then. At least I can logically say that with a good structure and a safety net, I guess I could give it a shot.

But wait. Now that I’m really thinking about it – how exactly do you fly on the trapeze? I mean it looks simple enough – hang on to the bar and don’t let go. Except I guess when you have to catch the other bar, or the other person, or you have to jump off, or land or… Okay, I’ll need a good coach. I don’t think just any coach though. This is after all possibly life threatening, certainly scary and definitely new to me. For that, I think I’ll need someone that has done it before and knows what they are doing, but also has the ability to give me the confidence that I will be safe in their hands.

Flying into an Agile Approach

Deciding to attempt agile isn’t just about applying an agile approach or trying agile out to see if it works. If it were, everyone would already be doing it. Shifting to agile is about taking a scary leap that doesn’t just effect you, but your entire organization, maybe your entire company. It would stand to reason then that jumping off and trying to catch the bar without having the right conditions in place wouldn’t be the best idea. As it so happens, pretty much everybody that tries the trapeze for the first time falls down pretty quickly. Whether it’s the first time you’re trying, or you’ve countlessly tried and fell down – it’s your approach that really counts.

The ability to do agile – to become confident that you can successfully try this new scary thing – or try it again even after you’ve fallen down is about creating and empowering the organizational structures, people, support and safety just to be able to apply agile. And that is really an entirely different thing. It’s a lot about the foundation you put in place to build on that makes the most difference. Very few of us have ever become experts at a thing without having failed a few times first – but a solid foundation of skills and structure reduces the risk.

A truly successful transformation not only changes the way we do things, but the way we think about them. Just like the conditions I would want in place for me to attempt the trapeze, here are the conditions you should want in place to attempt agile:

Agile Structure

My structure would need to have people organized into teams that support the effort and each other. Our roles should be clear enough for each team member to know what they need to do to support the effort and where they need to be at any given time. A good structure holds you up, and is flexible enough to bend without breaking. Ridged structure may seem strong and secure, yet most are brittle and break easily when unexpected loads or changes are applied to them.

An Agile Safety Net

My safety net would be a governance model, a strategic goal, and a clear vision of what we want to achieve. It would be backed up by a robust backlog of requirements and a way to measure success. Safety means that if my plan for today fails, we have the flexibility to quickly re-group and get back on track. My safety net would also have empowered and engaged leaders who know that some things don’t change quickly, but the support and direction they are able to contribute gives us the confidence that if we fall we will just get up and keep moving forward.

Agile Coaching

My coach would be a person who can make me believe that they have done this before, that they have my best interests in mind, yet will give me the tough truth about what I need to do to be successful. They would lead me to do the right thing and also let me learn from my mistakes. They would be my trusted partner, but not a crutch. A good coach will leave me strong enough to do it without them and maybe even better.

Contemplating trying new things, or trying things we have tried before without the results we expected is difficult. Transforming an organization is a big decision no executive would take lightly – but there is a way to do it that increases the chance of success, and maybe one day attempt to do so without the net.

Next Getting Ready for Agile2016

Adam Asch is an Executive Consultant, speaker and practitioner who is dedicated to leading and managing digital Programs, Products, Projects and Teams of all shapes and sizes.

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