Wednesday, May 15, 2013

5 ways to lose your job by "going agile"

 Yes, this is written from personal experience. With previous employer, I went to bat for the benefits of Agile project management. Though leaving was not a direct result of that effort, the relationship capital that I spent had a huge impact on my ability to add value. Eventually, I was clearly unhappy, they were clearly unhappy and we fairly amicably went our separate ways.

That said, the remainder of this post won't be written it in the first person. Doing so would  introduce too much of my own biases. Also, some of these points are slightly exaggerated from the actual occurrence so don't assume I'm as dumb as all that. 

I hope is that these hard-won lessons can be helpful to you in creating the change you want to see in your organization.  Regardless of  who you are or where you work, either as a project manager or team member;  in a large enterprise or a small consulting shop, in digital marketing or software development, I bet there's at least one pitfall I can help you avoid.

1. Complain about the current system

If you’re laboring under something like waterfall, or  a basic lack of project management processes, you can probably see that the grass is greener on the Agile side. If you're really antsy about it, you’ve probably read tons of great material at or maybe, and you know that things could be better.

Awesome, you are almost undeniably correct. But so what?

Bitching and moaning about the status quo is not a good way to create organizational change. Instead it’s a great way to create a rift within your team. Some of these people were involved in creating the current processes, conscious or not. Beating up on the these process doesn't make you look smarter than everyone else, it makes you look like you think you're smarter than everyone else.

Negativity begets pessimism. If you focus on what’s not working about your current project management processes, the natural tendency is to look for the downsides of any alternatives as well. Instead, paint a picture of the possibilities that you see for your team going agile.

2. Be stealthy

So, you’re using positivity to draw a compelling vision to get people on your side. Unless you’re an exceptional salesperson, you’re almost certain to get some push back. It can be frustrating. You might be tempted to just put up a taskboard in your office one day, in the hope that the value of making work visible will be immediately appreciated.

That can even work to some extent, it is really cool to actually see all the work in progress and in the backlog. But simply putting up a task board does not an agile team make. Assuming that everyone will follow your lead into agile is actually a very un-agile way of operating.

You’ve drunk the kool-aid and you know things can be better. Unfortunately, the truth is that things won’t get better if you don’t have proper buy in from the rest of your team. Take the time to have the conversations required to secure this buy-in, both above and below you. 

3. Get hung up on the software

When you’re at your most enthusiastic about the potential of transitioning to agile, it’s easy to get caught up in the fun of checking out all the different software tools out there. It is important, but it can be a distraction from the real issues.

A focus on software can easily devolve into a debate between the current “waterfall-y tool” and whichever shiny new “agile tool” you’ve got your eyes on. That’s not where you want the focus of your discussion. It should be about the processes used and cultural practices needed around those processes.

4. Drop balls

There’s nothing like an angry client or executive to put a damper on your efforts to create change. Never mind that things probably weren’t going all that smoothly in the first place; rational or not status quo bias makes it very likely that the blame will be laid at least partially on the transition to agile.

If you’re championing the transition, then you’re placing some of your own credibility on the line. Be aware of this, and be willing to put in the extra time and effort to protect your credibility by staying on top of information and deliverables.

5. Do it in a culture of fear

Take a look at your organization, and your own motivations for wanting to go agile. Maybe the agile manifesto speaks deeply to the kind of environment you’d like to work in. That may not be the case for the people around you. There’s a certain kind of safety in having a silo between you, and the developer two desks over.

Creating an agile culture requires that people step up and take responsibility for the quality of each deliverable (or story) at each stage of the process. Face it, your coworkers might not be cut out for agile.

If this describes your situation, it’s not worth the emotional energy required to fundamentally change the culture. Or more eloquently put:
Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.

-Warren Buffett
Be open to the idea that Agile will never be a fit for your organization... then polish up your resume.

Doing it right

Having gone in depth about what not to do, here's a very quick list of how it should be done.
  • Be humble
  • Talk to people one on one about your vision, and what you see in it for them
  • Get outside help
  • Get training
  • Be honest about the pros and cons
  • Be patient, now might not be the time for your organization
Also, make sure to do your research, so you know what you're talking about. Here are some good starting points:

Agile Software

Agile Marketing

What do you think? Have you had similar experience or difficulty transitioning an organization to Agile practices? Any insights to share about how it should be done? Let us know in the comments.


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