Friday, December 19, 2014

Why is being Agile so Hard

Doing Agile is only an engineering practice, but being agile is the multidisciplinary challenge from top-down and bottom-up.

Agile becomes mainstream software management philosophy and methodology,  however, most of the organizations are at the stage of doing Agile, not being agile, doing agile is a set of activities; but being agile is the state of mind, the ongoing capability, and the culture adaptability. To dig through, why is being agile so hard?

"Agile is a silver mirror, not a silver bullet": You have to do continuous reflection. Isn't Agile about transparency? Why were you not able to have open and constructive conversations about the situation? Why did you have to act beneath the company radar screen? Agile is a state of mind, it is about embracing change, taking risks, thinking out of the box etc. State of mind also means the psychological factors, it means the persons’ psychology plays an important role. Because we are humans. There is an old habit of resisting to changes. Not everyone can be Agile. There are also people that like titles, control, and power. They don't want to be Agile. Things related to the people are difficult, like self-organization, working without hierarchy, progression etc. Moving to agile brings the cultural change in an organization which the management needs to understand and support, to unease the roll out.
* Fear of ambiguity and uncertainty
* Fear of failure
* Fear or dislike of change
* No time or inclination to learn
* Undervaluing teamwork, cooperation, and trust
* Inability to engage in creative conflict and negotiation
* A liking for positional status
* A liking for individual heroics

Executives’ Buy-in: The belief that drives most organizations is that reducing cost is the prime means of "optimizing" - but results in silos, conflicts, command-and-control, etc. Some argue Agile cannot substantiate "positive" financial results in the short term. That is why it is hard to "convince" executives about its worth. Instead, show executives that financials have tangible and long-term gains via adopting Agile, and the executives themselves will want changes to happen. Hence, it is important to getting top executives to realize that one of the prime causes of poor organizational performance is silo thinking, and agile can improve cross-functional collaboration to make business work as a whole more seamlessly and profitable. And if they do realize, then get them to make positive decisions and constructive actions.

The agile "strategy" is being largely about getting the balance right between the stability and agility. "Stability" as a defensive position, protecting the organization, and "agility" as more aggressive, aimed at capturing market share and so on. This mix will vary with organizational functions, and it will evolve over time as the organization grows and the market evolves, changes and being disrupted. In any really large organization, you cannot, reasonably, get one mindset for everybody. New paradigms come along with sufficient frequency that a new one will have started along the adoption curve before the last one has completed. Thus, any really large organization needs to cope with the *permanent* case that there will be multiple mindsets; multiple sub-cultures. Unless it actively acknowledges and accommodates this or alternatively drives rapidly through each adoption curve, there will be constant internal strife. What doesn't work fine is a large organization with no imagination thinking that it can become agile (in both the literal and figurative sense of the word) without giving some serious thought to the way that the organization works. You can't change without being willing to change. You can't "scale" agile out to an organization that thinks the way it works right now is the only way that an organization "can" work.

There is structure underneath needs to be adjusted for agile adoption as well: Certainly when you get a group of 'managers' together and allow them to establish a culture, the culture they build will be very hard to change, even when the need for change is urgent and obvious. And by the nature of cultures, the need for change is rarely obvious *until* it is urgent. The root cause why managers exercise command-and-control is not just because of: lack of education, being taught about industrial silo fashion, not understanding contexts, being stuck in the "simple" quadrant, and so on. The root cause is also in the universal adoption of cost-based accounting practices, which inevitably creates divisive interests, hidden agendas, mistrust, and conflicts. Managers have no option than to resort to command-and-control to keep all the cattle in the herd because each and everyone is pulling in different directions. This is a structural characteristic of organizations driven by cost-based accounting. To change the culture, you must change what you value; which means to change the metrics.

The "state of mind" is a big part of the agile transformation! Doing Agile is only an engineering practice, but being agile is the multidisciplinary challenge from top-down and bottom-up.


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