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Agile – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

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This is your chance to hear about the Ugly harsh realities, the Bad news and the Good opportunities for Agile. In many ways this concludes the past months series on Agile Culture.

Stop reading now if you want to take the blue pill and ignore the harsh realities of the Agile industry.
Along with a menagerie of problems, the vast majority of so-called “Agile Coaches” are unconsciously incompetent with respect to adopting and transitioning to Agile and a wider toolkit is called for in many situations. But there’s hope for us all: we can stop the madness by changing our outlook and learn the tools at hand to turn this industry around.

The Ugly: Harsh Reality

Failure is now commonplace

There is a lot of failure and no shortage of lesson’s learned. Check out Google for top 10 lists on failure.  And then of course there is Ken Schwaber’s infamous quote: “75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it.” (I am in fact misquoting him but will do so anyway since he understates the problem). Of course there is my own informal study.
Agile is an idea, not a product
Many of us in the community have misunderstood that Agile is largely an idea disguised as a process (See Doing Agile isn’t the same as being Agile). Transforming companies to a new mindset is much much harder than adopting a process. Real success requires more than an accidental approach to adoption.
Post-Chasm Most Companies want a quick fix
Agile is post chasm and it’s painful (See Post-Chasm Agile Blues). Rare and far-between are the companies that have a strategic focus in adoption Agile where top company priorities are tied Agile delivery success. Often there is little buy-in to make undertake changes to really make Agile work.
Agile only fits in some company cultures
The sad truth is that Agile doesn’t fit all company cultures. Agile is about collaboration and cultivation while many companies are dominated by control culture. So, many Agile adoptions in progress right now are going to fail for this reason.

The Bad: Wake-up call for Coaches

Unconscious Ingnorance – where the majority of coaches are right now

As the ranks for so called Agile coaches has grown, I would argue that many do not really understand Agile very well (due in part to Semantic Diffusion). This is sad, but there is something worse: Among those who understand it reasonably well, the vast majority are in what I consider to be unconscious incompetence with regard to helping organizations with Agile. This is not a random insult, but a wake-up call.
If we consider “helping organizations with Agile” as a skill, then we can apply the Conscious Competence Learning Model to understand this. See levels in diagram below.

It could be argued that many are just at the Su level of Shu-Ha-Ri, and there is no need to be so negative. However, there is a step before Shu where someone does not know about or have interest in a particular skill – accidental is perhaps a more gentle word than unconscious incompetence.
I thought a lot about where to draw the red line. I think that mostly the community is is at the unconscious incompetence level with only a small number beyond this. Although there are some thought leaders sharing valuable insights, there is no coherent message that people agree on. We need to shift the curve to the right perhaps through a shaping meme in the Agile community. My hope is that this post will help with this.
Looking from a perspective of culture and the levels of failure, I think strong language is required for a wake-up-call and call to action.
The days where we pretend that Agile is the greatest things since sliced bread and we can just drop it in to any company are over.
Sorry, you need more tools
The skills required to be a good Agile Coach are immense. The best coaches are constantly learning and know that they have to be very selective in what knowledge to pursue. For example, see Agile Skills Project for skills just needed to use Agile, not to coach organizations. Mike Cottmeyer has a very broad list of tools that go waaaaay beyond Agile in 12 Key Knowledge Areas. What’s missing in all this?
Although there is a lot of talk about coaching, there is not much discussion of consulting effectively with Agile or no coherent story around organizational change. Interestingly the Certified Scrum Coach designation (which I have and think is valuable) has among other things clear requirements around Advisory and Consultation skills as well as Organizational Development. So, it’s time to read books like: Leading Change, Facilitating Organizational Change, Secrets of Consulting, and Flawless Consulting. To ease the load of learning everything, my recommendation is to work in teams.

The Good: Tools for success

First step is understanding

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – Lao-tzu. And that first step is to honestly reflect on what is happening in your world. For many, this will be a red pill, blue pill moment – except that this time its about you and not your client.

Look at the big picture

Understanding the company culture using the Schneider Culture Model or other model is critical. This can be used to inform whether to use an adoption approach or a transformation approach. Israel Gat argues that “Long-term Agile sustainability requires all four dimensions — benefits, risk mitigation, strategic business value, and culture — to be addressed.” (Concise Executive Guide To Agile). Work towards making Agile one of the top 3 company priorities or stop. Agile readiness assessments play a big part but this body of knowledge still needs development.
Use an Explicit Transition Model
In an earlier post, I outlined different adoption and transition models. It is critcal, that everyone know and understand the approach that is used and what the goals are.
Consider Kanban and Craftsmanship
Kanban is a great way to start chipping away at years of process atrophy and dysfunction. It fits well with control cultures that dominate the IT scene. This is a good thing and meant in a positive sense - Kanban is like an Oreo Cookie: Dark Crunchy Control on the outside, but Sweet White Goodness (collaboration, cultivation and craftsmanship) on the inside!  So for those hard-core Scrum-heads or Agile zealots – let it go – Kanban is the only way to help many companies. And attempting Agile in those places will just bring harm to all involved.
Competence culture has always been part of eXtreme Programming (XP), but has been washed out of Agile culture by the success of Scrum. Much of the technical emphasis has subsequently been developed into the Craftsmanship movement. Many companies are well suited to improving technical practices, so why not start there? Yup. That’s the opposite of Scrum.

Just Say “no”

With the understanding above about what successsful Agile is and the conditions for success, it is clear that many Agile adoptions may be better off halted and others not even started.
For people who work professionally as coaches and whose livelihood depend on maladapted Agile, the way to help themselves and to help their clients is to do something different that will work or stop.

Quo Vadis?

Agile makes the world a better place

Agile is an important way to bring joy to work and make software creation a humane activity. There is a revolution happening in the world of work where people are beginning to realize the economic value of play. For example, Stuart Brown: Why play is vital — no matter your age and Jane McGonigal on why gaming can make the world better. And this is part of an even bigger movement of creating a democratic workplace – checkout WorldBlu – this is a must see.

What’s your play book?

For a change agent or coach, where are you right now? Where do you want to be in 3 months? What are you going to do to get there?
School me!
For sure some readers will be thinking “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m in the consciously competent category!”. In this case, please share your stories of success and how you get there.
Thanks for taking the red pill …

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Published at DZone with permission of Michael Sahota, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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