As an Agile Coach, it’s exciting to watch a team of young agilists start their Agile journey. Some start with unbridled enthusiasm, others with fear and trepidation. They then crawl from Agile infants to toddlers learning how to communicate and play well with others, then move into Agile childhood where they begin to develop competencies and enjoy success. And then… [long pause] …they become Agile teenagers – yikes!
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve raised one teenager and have another now, and I love them even during their teenage years. There are great times at that age, and there are, well, less than great times too. Those growing in their agility go through stages similar to what my kids did. Some move through the teenage years with grace and style, some with a rebellious attitude, and unfortunately some stay in Agile adolescence way longer than they should. Being an Agile teenager is normal for a while, but just as we don’t want our children living in our basement, playing video games and eating Cheetos well into their 30’s, at some point every Agile teenager needs to grow into adulthood.
I often see traits that Agile adolescents have in common with teenagers. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard behaviors like these:
- Unteachable, know-it-all mentality – “I read a book about Agile. I know everything I need to know – leave me alone.”
- Moody – “Our team is invincible.” Later that same day… “Just kill me now.”
- Rebellion – “A daily stand-up meeting every day? No way!”
- Procrastination – “Oh well, we’ll just finish this user story next sprint.”
- Social media communication – “You mean I have to actually talk to my teammate? Instagram works just fine.”
- Center of attention – “I’m the Scrum Master, everyone look at me!”
But then, most teenagers have also matured past childhood. They demonstrate positive behaviors such as:
- Questioning the status quo – Looking for a better way (inspect and adapt)
- Becoming who they really are – Developing a sense of identity (transparency)
- Independence and experimentation – (Self-organizing, innovation)
These behaviors are both good and also deserve a word of caution. For example, we encourage independent thinking in our children, but independence without boundaries can lead to them ignoring wise counsel (does that sound like any teenager you know?).
Agile teenagers typically know the basics – the practices of an Agile framework like Scrum – but they may have difficulty seeing and implementing the harder improvements, such as the principles behind Agile that make Agile so powerful and sustainable in the long run. Agile teenagers think they’ve “arrived” because their Daily Stand-ups finish in 15 minutes, their User Stories get completed within a single sprint, and their Burn-down chart has an impressive-looking downward slope. The problem is, the practices of an Agile framework are only the beginning of agility – the easy part of Agile. The principles (collaboration, transparency, reflection and adaptation, self-organizing teams, etc.) are harder and take longer to incorporate, but the principles provide the greatest and longest lasting benefits.
The danger of Agile adolescence is that many agilists never move on from this stage. They never grasp the importance of learning to grow past just the mechanics of Agile ceremonies and artifacts, and embrace the culture of agility that creates an atmosphere of continual innovation, inspection, learning, and adapting.
Everyone grows at a different pace, and many factors can influence how fast people grow, such as whether any Agile education or coaching (parenting) is available to them, if they’re in an environment that encourages or stifles growth, and whether their individual personality lends itself to having a positive attitude toward change and taking initiative.
Maybe you’re going through Agile adolescence right now. There is hope. These gawky teenage years won’t last forever if you keep pressing on, and keep persevering in learning more about agility and your role in the Agile world. Challenge your team, your Scrum Master, your Product Owner, and your leadership to keep moving ahead. Becoming a person or an organization of high agility is a marathon, not a sprint. Keep growing yourself, and then help others move on to become Agile adults.