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Does Agile require cultural change?

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Does Agile require cultural change?

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If Woody Allen were an Agile Coach Consultant he might say:

“#Agile without culture change is an empty experience; but as empty experience go its one of the best”

I sit in Agile conferences (and I include Lean and Kanban here) and I hear people say “To really become Agile you need culture change.” And I agree with them.

Yes, if you really want to be Agile, and get the greatest benefit from Agile you need to change the culture of the organization to embrace the Agile way. I agree.

And I also know that every speaker on this topic - and myself - warn again “doing Agile” without being Agile in culture and mindset. Heck, I kind of wrote a book about this once upon a time. For me “Agile culture” is a “Learning Organization Culture.”

But…

But Agile is a toolkit, you can pick out and use many of those tool without adopting others and without adopting an Agile mindset. For example, you can do Test Driven Development without the need to adopt an Agile culture in your organization. And even without culture change Test Driven Development (TDD) will make you better.

True, if you have to force march your programmers through TDD it isn’t going to be as beneficial as it will be if your programmers embrace TDD and want to do it and make it part of their life.

Given this we - and I include myself - build an argument for undertaking cultural change.

But, big BUT….

TDD is not alone, there are lots of tools in the Agile toolkit that you can pick up and use individually, or with a couple of others, which will help you improve. But if you want the full benefit, well, you are going to have to pick up more tools and change that culture!

Culture change is a far bigger effort than introducing any Agile tool - or even an Agile method.

And most of the people who go by the title “Agile coach” or “Agile consultant” or similar are - in my opinion - drawn from the technology side and aren’t necessarily equipped to undertake culture change initiatives. To be fair, I don’t think many people are equipped (training, experience, knowledge, etc) to undertake culture change.

Please don’t take offence Agile consultants/coaches, I include myself here. On paper I have more qualification to change culture than the vast majority of Agile consultants/coaches I meet and I’m wary of trying to change culture.

Certainly, if we believe folk-law (or the updated version “wisdom of crowds”) culture change is hard and often fails.

Let me say something some people will disagree with:

Culture Change is not necessary to introduce Agile. Culture change is not an enabler.

Rather culture change may be the result of adopting Agile.

I hope it is the result but I also recognise that organizations have the cultures they have and we mess with it at our peril, culture may look bad but embedded in there is a lot of knowledge and norms. Company culture is makes a company what it is, change it and you risk destroying the company. Messing with culture is likely to bring out the corporate antibodies.

Anyone who wants to change an organization, particularly anyone wanting to change tools, methods of working and culture in an organization is well advised to go and study the history of Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). BPR was an 1990’s attempt to change the ways companies work, through the use of technology, or make them more efficient. Agile has a lot in common with BPR but BPR is an example of how not to do it.

I am prepared to take people through Agile tools, practices, methods, I encourage them to adopt these approaches, and I don’t really work, directly, to change culture. I believe that if people start to live and Agile lifestyle then the culture will follow. I believe that Agile-Lean is good, I believe that if we pick tools which will make peoples work better in a way they appreciate it then I believe that in time the culture will change.

In short, I believe culture follows tools, the tools we choose to use - whether that be stand-up meetings, Jira, Rally or paper and pen - influence our culture and lead somewhere. Its not a one way street, its not that simple, but tools are a lot easier to change than culture.

Change come first, culture follows.

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Published at DZone with permission of Allan Kelly, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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