Inauthentic Agile frameworks and authentic people
As more organizations pursue increased business agility and greater responsiveness, #agile frameworks become an increasingly popular option for them to explore and it can be very difficult to identify which framework best suits your application and environment, and to identify which agile coaches and practitioners can best help you adopt and implement agility in your environment.
I wanted to talk about the inauthentic agile frameworks that exist and about the authentic agile people and practitioners that operate within the industry.
Agility in a Box
There are two main schools of thought within the Agile industry. Those who believe that you need to pursue authentic agility and grow agile capabilities through exploration and experimentation, and those who believe that you can implement an off-the-shelf packaged ‘solution’ such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Frameworks).
A kind of ‘agility in a box’ solution that makes a bunch of promises on the tin that rarely manifest themselves in real world applications.
In my experience, I don’t believe you can buy agility in a box, and I have yet to see a successful and authentic agile transformation come from anyone who has attempted to buy an off-the-shelf agile solution.
That said, a lot of agilists are practicing this approach.
Not because they want to and not because they believe it is a great way to increase business agility, but because it is a guaranteed way to secure work and contracts.
Some of these off-the-shelf frameworks have become so dominant in the industry that unless agile practitioners and coaches are certified and experienced in these frameworks, they simply won’t get work and be able to practise what they love.
There are a few agile practitioners who genuinely believe that these off-the-shelf frameworks are a great way for large organizations to adopt agile but in my experience, and through conversations I have had with people, many of the agile practitioners are able to achieve great results despite the framework rather than because of it.
It is their passion for business agility and their unique skills that empower them to make a difference rather than by following the off-the-shelf product instructions by rote.
Authentic Agility first, framework dogma second.
In my opinion and experience, an off-the-shelf agile framework,
- Is process centric.
- Lacks people orientation.
- Lacks cultural orientation.
- Lacks systems orientation.
- Lacks complexity orientation.
Yet, a great agile practitioner who has deep experience in working with people, teams, systems thinking and design, etc. can help you achieve results because of their great agile coaching and mentoring skills and capabilities.
Some start with the framework they have been given to work with and do their best to help implement that off-the-shelf solution but to be effective and achieve results for the organization, they often must do a great deal of work outside of the constraints and limitations of the off-the-shelf framework.
In short, they need to practise authentic agility and focus on creating environments where teams and individuals can excel. They need to do what any great agile coach and consultant would do, separate from the framework dogma, to build great teams and foster an environment that truly facilitates creativity, collaboration, and innovation.
This muddies the water because the organizations and people that are selling these off-the-shelf frameworks point to the great results being achieved by skilled and experienced agile practitioners as evidence of the framework’s successful adoption and implementation.
I put it to you that this simply isn’t true. These authentic and skilled Agile practitioners are achieving good results despite the off-the-shelf framework rather than because of it.
Agility is not a team sport.
Mathematically, from a systems thinking perspective, and from a multitude of other perspectives, Agility is not a team sport.
It is limited by,
- Bottleneck constraints in your organization.
- Dependencies between people and teams.
- The workflows, processes and systems that are in place which slow people down.
- The way people are compensated for their work and contribution.
- The way people are promoted and recognized for their contribution.
- The way products and projects are funded within the organization.
As such, executives and leadership teams really need to level up to improve the agility of the organization and support agility at the team level.
Understand that agility at the team level has a ceiling.
The people within those team environments who are really good at what they do, really enthusiastic about the work they do, and who really want to help develop products and services that truly delight customers and end users will get frustrated if executives and leadership teams don’t help them solve problems and remove impediments that are outside of their influence and control.
So, it might be very tempting to get a big consulting firm in to roll out an off-the-shelf enterprise framework, but it won’t lead to authentic business agility.
The value of great people.
Deeply experienced and skilled Agile practitioners/coaches/consultants refer to that as the ‘Agile Industrial Complex’ and whilst we recognise that these rollouts are very rarely effective, we do recognise that there are some great people who are involved in these agile transformation programs.
There are fantastic agile practitioners and experts working in these off-the-shelf framework implementations, that I really respect and admire, and I put it to you that the successful pilots and results you see emerge from these rollouts are a result of their work rather than the framework.
So, in closing, I would like to acknowledge the great work of authentic agile practitioners and experts despite them working within off-the-shelf adoptions – such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Frameworks) and [email protected] – but I would strongly urge you not to consider buying agility in a box and attempting to transform your organization through a one-size-fits-all approach to business agility.
John Coleman has deep experience and expertise working with executives, #leadership teams and product development teams to achieve increased #businessagility and create environments where creativity and collaboration produce high-performance teams.
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