Are we there yet? - An agile journey


Some Truths about Journeys

Journeys can take time, there are stoppages for fuel and snacks, wrong turnings and delays. In fact, even when we do reach our chosen destination, we often discover that we’d like to see something new or better across the other side of town. The eternal question from the passengers in the back is always: “Are we there yet?”

To begin with, your staff will be the ones asking that question while you steer the agile wheel in the direction you want to travel until they are ready to take the helm themselves. To save them some pain you ought to cut to the chase and tell them straight — “we’ll never be there.” To begin with this might scare them but eventually it should empower them and that’s when real progress can be made. You want them not to be asking “are we there yet?” rather “where are we going?” and “why?” and “what’s the best path to take?” Once you have people asking these types of questions, then you’ll know you have the right teams and you can get moving.


Finding the Right Path

Smart people like to establish the exact terrain of their journey, the reasons for making the trip and the best path to take as soon as possible. You wouldn’t make a trip to the moon on a rusty bicycle — it’s doomed from the outset, likewise, you can’t expect your journey to full agility to succeed without the right investment, training, equipment and decision making. Ultimately, the first step on any journey is all about mind-set and attitude — it’s paramount that people are invested in understanding why the journey is taking place and the resources they’ll have at their disposal.

The word empowerment is thrown around carelessly in the work place (I’ve already used it in this article) but it’s essential in making sure that your agile projects are led by skilled guides rather than illiterate map readers. Of course, people only feel empowered if they are provided with the correct environment and capabilities, all mixed in with a large dollop of trust. It stands to reason that you’ll have to train your people in the underlying agile principles, ceremonies and processes, but, they mustn’t be slaves to following these, this is merely the start of their agile tool set. The best teams know that being agile isn’t about chronicling the intricacies of a sprint planning session or some other ceremony, instead, it’s about using the agile framework to follow the path to key deliverables as seamlessly as possible. If people buy into the reason why they’re making the journey in the first place it makes this way of thinking a whole lot easier; ultimately, you’ll want your teams to be focussing on increasing flow, productivity and output rather than getting bogged down in agile dogma. They’ll never get anywhere if they don’t and, if they’re passionate people, they’ll want to reach their final destination quickly — to prevent frustration and false expectancy, you might have to urge them to hold their horses when it comes to that…..


Is the Final Destination ever the Final Destination?

Once a business has embarked on an agile journey there’s often a well-intentioned rush to reach the final destination to discover whether they’ve adopted agile successfully or not. This is pretty bogus logic since (spoiler alert!) nobody is ever going to reach a final destination and, even if they do, they’ll then be standing still and probably won’t stay ahead of competitors for very long anyway. Instead, if you’re hiring smart people with an open mind who are passionate about what they do, they’ll start to adapt the agile processes and tailor them to help achieve more demanding deliverables. This isn’t throwing out all existing processes, it’s just common sense. To this end, it’s worth remembering that one of the founding 12 agile principles is ‘working software is the primary measure of progress’ and, if you absolutely must have a final destination, then delivering the client’s needs is not a bad place to end up.

This confidence to adapt and tailor agile ceremonies can only be achieved by imbuing a culture of trust, autonomy and shared respect in your workforce. If you do this, your staff can quickly reap the benefits of agility and then you can start to take journeys to dream locations you never thought possible. Aren’t all the best adventures those when you start to explore a little and when the best guides are given freedom to lead the expedition? You surely wouldn’t follow your GPS if it was guiding your car into a river filled with sharks even if, on paper, it seemed the most direct route, would you? Likewise, to be truly successful you’ll need to empower (there’s that word again) your people to navigate paths themselves rather than slavishly following a pre-determined agile GPS. In this way, you’ll develop a happy community, fully skilled and responsible enough to re-define the journey for their own terrains and, before you know it, you’ll have clients knocking on your door desperate to join in too.