Over the years “Agile”has become the de-facto standard of software development. This development is enabling organizations to deliver faster and better software by encouraging collaboration, rapid feedback and turn around. Agile software development not only ensures better quality product but also avoids expensive rework. From an engineering point of view it has solved many of the challenges of traditional software development by adopting practices like continuous integration (CI) and sprint based releases. There are also numerous tools to make the process more adaptable.
But the challenges of large scale Agile implementation is no more technical in nature. It is around ‘people’ i.e ability to change people’s mindset for agile adoption. Many of the agile coaches and sponsors have expressed this concern in multiple forums. This article is an effort to understand the nature of this challenge and share some insights.
First, we should look at the nature of change itself. I have done many assignments, but while reflecting on those so-called ‘failed’ assignments, I observed one common thread that existed in these engagements. It was the nature of conversations in these organizations. Steve Zafron in his best-selling book, Three Laws of Performance mentions “ .. an organization can be viewed as a network of conversations”, many of these organizations where the initiatives had failed consisted of conversations like “ .. Nothing is going to change here”, “we have tried this earlier”, “one more new initiative”. There was a strong belief that “Things won’t change here”.
“ .. an organization can be viewed as a network of conversations”
It is important to be aware of your conversations and ask yourself “Is Change Possible?” Depending on the answer you can plan the next steps.
“Is Change Possible?”
When you are tasked with facilitating the Agile Adoption the question to be asked to self is- “Is Change Possible?”– This is not a new question. It is an old debate that goes back to many centuries. People who say change is not possible to belong to Parmenides family. Parmenides, a great Greek Philosopher (515-450 BC) and founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy (universal unity of being) taught that change is impossible.
If you think change is possible then you belong to Heraclitus family. Heraclitus, another great Greek Philosopher (535-475 BC) taught that there is an ever-present change in the universe.
There may be other factors that might influence the overall outcome of the engagement but it is important that you take your position on this debate.
If you take a position that change is not possible then you should look at appropriate ways to complete the assignment.
If you agree that change is possible then the next important step is to become aware of two types of change.
One is the change -“within”. This is related to perception, opinion, judgement, point of view etc. of various stakeholders involved in the assignment.
The second type of change is -“outside/out there” and it is related to reality, the world as it exists. For an example, you have a “good Python developer” in your team. This means there is a perception that he is a good developer and if the person is able to showcase skills in solving complex problems consistently then the person lives up to the perceptions around him, thereby strengthening people’s view of him.
Lack of skill and/or perception needs attention.
Human mind constantly creates images of reality from “outside/out there” into “within” to form perceptions and opinions but this is a non-linear process.
When working with large organizations, it is not enough that you ensure effective change only by working on reality. It is equally important to have a change in perception for all stakeholders involved in the implementation.
So there are two types of changes – Continuous (Reality) - something that changes every day for e.g. implementing a few stories, fixing some bugs, shipping code etc. Whereas discrete change (change in perception for stakeholders) happens suddenly. It may be an outcome of a series of actions but the change is drastic.
For example, a small incident can break the ‘trust’ between a Scrum Master and the team. In a small conversation, you might get connected to a stakeholder.
Generally, we take good care of continuous improvement changes by taking various actions, completing tasks, conducting meetings, workshops etc. But in this process, we tend to neglect to work on an important task of changing people’s perception.
Though there is no straight forward answer or formula to make this happen, being aware of its importance definitely creates an opening towards it.
Let me illustrate the change in perception with an example of discrete change.
Let’s count the number of Lego bricks –
Totally there are 8 blocks but did you observe “Lee” hiding between these boxes?
I’m sure some of you have already found it but for those who have not yet found Lee, get ready now!
Look at the box again and this time focus on the second line, keep looking at the white spaces.
You will see “L E E” written in white paint on a black background. Once you distinguish this it is easy to see both perspectives.
Therefore it is important that as a change agent one should ensure that the change happens both in reality and also in perception. Marketing people know this secret very well that is the reason they spend lot of effort in creating and maintaining a brand.
Maybe it is time for Agile Professionals to apply this secret and help our clients for successful large scale Agile Transformation.
Raghavendra (Raghav) Mithare is a professional coach and a scrum master, regional head for ProcessWhirl Management Consulting based out of London office. Feel free to share your opinions, comments and feedback. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Agile – Software Development methods based on Agile Manifesto, it includes Scrum, Extreme Programming (XP), Adaptive Software Development (ASD), Dynamic Systems Development method (DSDM), Crystal Clear Methods.
2 Agile Development Tools - Atlassian Jira, OnTime Scrum, Lean Kit, TFS,Rally Agile Platform
3Steve Zaffron, Dave Logan http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470195592.html
4 Parmenides –https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parmenides
5 Heraclitus - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heraclitus
6 HeLuc De Brabandere http://www.amazon.co.uk/Forgotten-Half-Change-Creativity-