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Key Ingredient for Success: Systems Thinking

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Key Ingredient for Success: Systems Thinking

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imageOur behavior is always a reaction to the system around us. Let us take an example of an Agile team working  on a project, and as we know its behavior would be determined by the stakeholders, leaders, enterprise culture around them. Anyone wishing to  change the team’s mindset should look at changing the system first rather than their practices.

Photo from Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmurawski/499278540/

As per Systems Thinking a problem needs to be solved by looking at the system as a “whole” rather than the reaction to parts of the system. All the elements in a system are inter - related and inter - dependent.  Removing parts of the system creates a new system destroying the old one. 

In any software project, the system includes the developers, testers, stakeholders, and all the tools being used there. Agile transformation is all about changing the mindset of the people towards embracing a better way of developing software. An Agile coach on the project will be successful, only if he/she has the power to influence the system, not just the practices. However, it is not the case in most instances. Most of the Agile coaches concentrate only on Agile practices and updating the Kanban walls. This has lead to large scale failures in Agile projects, and at the end stakeholders  declaring “Agile won’t work”. 

Based on my experience I see the following issues leading to failure of Agile coaches

1. Lack of Systems thinking knowledge
2. No “teeth” or sufficient power to influence the systems. This typically happens when Agile coaches are hired to solve specific project issues 
3. Lack of experience working in large enterprises or systems. Coaches with hands on experience working on multitude of projects are in a better position as compared to newly “upgraded” coaches.
4. Ignoring the importance of systems, and trying to impress the clients with Scrum ceremonies.

There are several mitigation strategies to address the above issue

1. Ensure that Agile coaches understand the concept of Systems Thinking, and are knowledgeable enough to use the right set of tools
2. Agile coaches need to be empowered and supported to change the system. As long as their hands are tied, they end up improving the ceremonies, and not the system
3. Agile coaches should closely work with iteration managers/Scrum Masters in brining the change. While Scrum Masters concentrate on the practices, the coaches should concentrate on Systems Thinking.

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