Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Is Management Pulling in Different Directions when Implementing Agile

The Agile leaders have to listen to all demands and decide the path ahead.

Agile is about three “I”s: Interactive communication, Iterative collaboration, and incremental improvement. Compare to Waterfall, Agile process is more robust, adapt to changes and people-centric. However, could it cause the other set of problems? For example, what's the "agile distraction"? And how to avoid management pulling in different directions when implementing Agile?

Dig into the executives’ mindset: You might not be able to resolve such issues by dealing only with those managers who are pulling you in different directions. You need to climb up in the organizational hierarchy. Find the first manager who is in charge of all those that are pulling in different directions. If there are many “chefs”:  involved, you might need to get as high as the “chief” - C-suites for problem-solving. Find out what that executive cares about, what are the objectives, critical success factors, necessary conditions etc.. Show how the conflicts that happen in the organization actually impede realizing those objectives, critical success factors, necessary conditions, etc. It requires the executive either (1) to clearly articulate how to resolve such conflicts. Alternatively, ask him/her permission; but it will most likely fail after a while, and people will get back to their habitual fighting.  (2) to teach and coach the organization how to resolve such conflicts in favor of reaching the objectives, critical success factors, necessary conditions, is the better solution for the long term success and getting to true organizational agility and higher levels of performance.

The dialectic tension and diversity of viewpoints: "Agile" likes dynamic tension; people pulling in different directions means that you are having different viewpoints considered, and if you can obtain a reasonable compromise, the solution will be good for all. However, there are a couple of risks. One is that the holder of one viewpoint will have too much power and will ride roughshod over the needs of other stakeholders in the decision. Another is that the competing forces will fail to recognize an acceptable compromise. People pull in different directions for two reasons. Fist they can do it because they don't understand the reasons to go in a different direction, and second they can do it because they understand the other reasons but what they value is different so they come to a different balance point between the forces. If there is unity of purpose and a true Agile spirit while there are different viewpoints, practicing empiricism should help resolve the issue. Devise experiments to try both ideas; and then decide what looks more promising for supporting the stated purpose, based on the information acquired with the experiments.

The conflicts of interests. If there is a conflict of interest, then there is no empirical approach that will make it go away. You need to get to the "what is in it for me?" of the contenders. You need to work more on developing the unity of purpose. If you can't do that, then ultimately it is the CXO’s call to define what the purpose is -- and maybe take hard decisions, like evaluating if all staffs are really contributing to that purpose. Often when two people want things that are in direct opposition to each other, what they "want" is a specific solution that meets underlying needs. While the specific solutions might be in direct conflict, the underlying needs might not. In such a case, it is possible, in many cases, to find a solution that meets both sets of needs. The "compromise" is to step back from one's chosen solution and accept a different solution that nevertheless meets the real needs. So communication is key, get the stakeholders together in one room to discuss their differences. The stated aim is "to help *me* make my decisions", and the guidance is that if we can come to an agreement that all are comfortable with, that's the way we go, but until such agreement is reached I shall make *my* decisions doing my best to take into account their conflicting desires.

So the Agile leaders have to listen to all demands and decide the path ahead, identifying and acknowledging the needs of all stakeholders and coming up with strategies that address everyone’s need. Agile is about customer-centricity, not about management centricity; keep the end in mind, to deliver products/services, not just on time or budget, but on value.


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