A year or so back, I was asked to perform an extensive Agile Assessment on a particular organisation.
At first it was fairly typical for a gig of this kind – in short “Agile” had been popping up here and there in an organic almost mould like manner. Sufficient “Agile Mould” had however grown across the organisation that it had come to the attention of the PMO – and thus they wanted their “Mould Assessed”.
So I did.
As part of the engagement, I was asked to put together a formal briefing for the PMO and present my findings.
During the course of the engagement, I had been fortunate enough to speak to several clients and senior stakeholders – and so had insight into not only the current state of their “Agile Practices” but also how their customers felt about the project scoping and delivery process in general. I figured this was useful information, so I decided to incorporate these findings into my briefing.
Once we got to the “findings” section of the briefing I announced that I had Good News and Bad News.
The Bad News was that the Agile I had encountered was really not very effective. That is to say, like so very many organisations, only the window dressing had been adopted, and the fundamental processes and mindset’s hadn’t really shifted at all; as a result neither had any of the project outcomes.
The Good News was however, that Actually Doing Agile would be an excellent approach to working towards solving their clients’ frustrations – pretty much every client lament fell directly into the Agile Wheelhouse. Their clients would be delighted with an iterative incremental approach to both delivery and planning. It would have literally saved millions.1
The Head of the PMO was outraged. I mean really really angry.
Here I was going “Have I Got Good News for You” and he’s reacting like I’d just run over his dog, while his wife was holding it.
THAT IS A FAILURE IN PROJECT MANAGEMENT he boomed.
WE DO NOT NEED A METHODOLOGY THAT PANDERS TO FAILURE
WHAT WE NEED IS STRICTER CONTROLS ON REQUIREMENTS GATHERING AND CLIENT SIGNOFF
IF I KNEW THAT THIS IS WHAT “AGILE” WAS ABOUT, I WOULD HAVE FORBIDDEN IT, NOT EVALUATED IT
and so the meeting ended.
I have no idea what happened next (I did get paid if you were curious), but on reflection I regard the engagement as a great success, because it was pretty clear that they had no real interest in making Agile work and thus it would have been frustrating for everybody to have tried.
In fact, the Idea of Agility was completely repugnant to them. Agile (or Scrum) was only appealing while it appeared to be institutionalised micro management – they saw a meeting that appeared to be tracking developer activity on an hour by hour basis – and figured that that was an appealing adjunct to their existing Project Management Processes. MOAR CONTROL!
As bizarre as it might seem, I can respect that. They knew who they were and what they wanted and when I helped them understand the implications of what they’d asked for they made a clear choice.
I hope they feel the same way about me. I didn’t try and “Talk Them Into Agile” (beyond reporting that their clients really liked the idea) – instead I respected their (informed) choice to reject it as an approach.
As such I think we both dodged a bullet and saved a lot of unnecessary confusion and suffering.2
But if I hadn’t outlined the end game so clearly, what might have been the alternative?
Over the years I feel that I’ve gotten better and better at explaining both Lean and Agile; some of you, after reading the above, however may feel as if I’ve gotten too efficient at it for my own good.3
The alternate thou is something I’ve come to call “The Carnivorous Vegan”
Doesn’t make sense? Let me explain.
Imagine for a moment, that Veganism becomes the absolute trendiest thing in the whole world. Basically you can’t get a date or job unless you’re Vegan.
So to survive you need to be seen to be being a Vegan.
But deep down inside, not only are you not a vegan, you’re actually the opposite, you crave meat and deeply dislike vegetables.
In fact even the thought of vegetables makes you sick.
So instead of actually being a Vegan, what you do instead is “Play a Good Game” – you give lip service to the rhetoric and join the Vegan Society but that bowl of carrots you appear to be having for lunch is in fact shaved cocktail wieners dyed orange.
And if enough people start behaving this way, then the word Veganism slowly begins to lose its meaning.
In this scenario, Being Vegan stops being a choice and instead becomes a watchword for mindless cargo-cult hypocrisy.4
And this is what I’m seeing happen with Agile.
Unlike the typical coaches lament, where an organisation genuinely wants the Agile Benefits but is struggling to put in the Agile Hard Yards, these Carnivorous Vegan organisations don’t even want the benefits. They need to be seen to be “Doing Agile”, but deep down inside they really just want Waterfall to Work.5
For Agile to mean anything, it needs to be a choice not a default.
And Waterfall also needs to be a seen as a choice not an enemy.
Yeah, sure, you can prefer one over the other and even be passionate about your choice and even encourage other’s to make the same choice. Believe me, most die hard Vegans and Paleo’s are passionate about their choices.
But being passionate is not the same as being a closed minded zealot.
Respecting people’s right to choose is important.6
Because if “Doing Agile” stops being a choice, and instead becomes the “Required Default” it’s slowly but surely going to stop being “Agile”.
And that’s something I’m passionate about preventing.
- This may actually have been the problem. ↩
So this relates only to the PMO. The clients are probably still suffering, perhaps more so, depending on whether the proposed additional controls went into place. However, the clients were not my client – but perhaps they should have been.
- So let’s be clear here. The same approach often results in the reaction “Awesome – Give Me Some of That Please”. These gigs turn out well because people know what they’ve bought, why they’ve bought it and what they’re getting themselves into. ↩
- So interestingly perhaps, this is more true of vegetarianism. I’ve seen people profess to be vegetarian and then immediately eat a roast chicken. Actual Veganism however largely steers clear of this trap by having a very clear bright line as to what it means. No Animal Products. At All. ↩
- It is interesting just how many people think that Agile is a set of techniques that make Waterfall Projects work better. ↩
- And thus take responsibility for the the consequences, both Good And Bad of those choices. ↩