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Square Pegs, Round Holes: Challenges in the Agile World

I was recently asked what I thought about an article by self-titled ‘product development nut’ John Cutler - “Why Isn't Agile Working?

Since I already had an article in the works around some of the related challenges – this was my take:

The author provides some interesting insight into the many challenges of Agile. He hits the nail on the head towards the end when he states, "Agile is worthless unless it serves as a catalyst for continuous improvement."

Let me just repeat that - "Agile is worthless unless it serves as a catalyst for continuous improvement."

I would actually change that slightly to "Agile is worthless unless it serves as a catalyst for Limited Constant Change."

It may sound like an oxymoron but consider the following:

Limited: You want change but not too often - just the right amount.

How do you gauge that? Well, you can't exactly. Much of this is empirical and occurring inconsistently. For example, scope creep may be necessary in some instances of a sprint, but if it becomes a habit for every sprint - there is definitely a problem!

Constant: You want a level of consistency and underlying discipline.

This is where accountability comes into play. DOD (Definition of Done), DOR (Definition of Ready) and Working Agreements help establish some of this.

Change: In dynamic business environments and with ever-evolving technology, we have to get used to change and expect that it can happen at any time!

More importantly, the thing to ask is “does the change make sense given the current situation, resources, infrastructure, availability, etc.? Consider the current circumstances.

Moreover, are we clearly informed on the expectations and why the change is happening?

John also starts with a good statement about removing the word "Agile." The word "Agile" has been butchered so much over the years that its true meaning has dissolved into focusing on processes, without the underlying discipline required.

IMHO, Agile is really about common sense, alignment and communication. If we can get these things right, then Agile falls into place by itself, without much additional effort.

The underlying (and most difficult) component for this is people relations. Principles and Values should become the focal point to work around. However, you need a few things to get this going in the right direction.

1. The right people.

You need folks representing all areas of product development and engaging with each other.

2. More importantly, get the right level of expertise involved.

Identify the SME's (yes, even within teams!) and make their roles and responsibilities clear, explicit and well understood by everyone involved.If there is a learning aspect to this for other team members, that’s perfectly acceptable.Making this explicit sets the stage for any rumblings later on and clearly sets expectations. Most of us know that "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link." Don't let a select few bring down a whole team.

3. Encourage a fail-fast mindset to enable innovation and allow for calculated risk taking.

As humans, we naturally like to improve and get better at our skills. This space needs to be provided with clear leadership encouragement.

4. Push individuals to discover and pursue their passions, thereby igniting intrinsic motivation.

Finding the true source to one’s motivations creates a natural path for trust, honesty, reliability and longevity.

5. Leadership needs to support employee engagement.

If you have individuals who feel like their contributions are not being acknowledged, they will disengage. The cost to companies of disengaged employee is in the billions across organizations! Seriously, take a good look around.

6. Keep things human!

As humans, we are natural problem solvers. By dictating processes, we take away from the innate potential that individuals bring to the table - all of which are unique.

While underlying discipline is absolutely essential, allowing for a natural flow is equally, if not more, important. "Natural" requires less effort - we simply need to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole!

I can go on about this topic for hours... What are your thoughts?

Views and opinions are my own.

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