Shoot the Messenger?


I struggled with the order of the last five items in this list. Over the past month, I believe every one of the issues has spent at least a few moments in the top position based on the conversation. Being in the top spot of the indicators of virtual agility is not like being at the top a typical league table, but like being in Dante’s seventh circle of hell. Virtual Agility is not a place to be if your goal is to deliver value.

The top five are:

  1. Inaction – Daily stand-ups, short-term planning, retrospectives, and demonstrations are designed to elicit action.  Virtual agility occurs when an action is expected and nothing actually happens. Agile expects that teams to seek out feedback on products, people, and process. Retrospectives are just one feedback mechanism.  The problem with feedback this that a reaction is expected and, dare I say, required.  If you don’t have a bias for action, you are living in virtual agility!
  2. Champion Syndrome – Champions carry whole teams on their back.  Champions perform heroics to ensure that things get done even if they have to be pushed across the finish line at the last moment consuming their 10th Red Bull of the day.  Heroics reflect planning and process problems.  The worst part of the champion syndrome is that it is an addiction. Who doesn’t like the shot of adrenaline that occurs when you save the day. Champions and the heroics they perform is not the problem.  An occasional bout of heroics never hurt any team or organization, rather the problem sets in when heroics become part of the culture and planned into expectations.  The champion syndrome is not sustainable and is anti-Agile.
  3. Shoot the Messenger Syndrome – This issue occurs when feedback is unsafe.  Inspect and adapt, OODA Loops, PDCA, and experimentation are the heart and soul of being Agile.  Shooting the messenger when they don’t return the perfect answer of is a perfect way to ensure that no one tries something new or tells the truth when things don’t go perfectly.  This is not an Agile problem, but a serious organizational issue that portends ill for all.
  4. Hubris – Excessive pride and self-confidence have no place on an individual or team level in Agile OR IN ANY OTHER team-driven approach.  Hubris will sooner or later get in the way of team members working together.

The drum roll –
1. Agile Decoy Effect – Senior leadership often sets the expectation that an organization should be “Agile” but doesn’t adopt the same principles or plays lip service.  All sorts of strange and un-Agile behaviors occur when this issue crops up ranging from constantly changing teams to vacillating requirements and imposed drop-dead dates. The mantra is to be Agile, but not Agile enough not do exactly what we say and when we say it.

Are you really Agile?  Are you trying the “faking it until you make it” approach, or are you blissfully happy living in a virtual Agile environment? In the Matrix Morpheus asked Neo:

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Agile promises all sorts of benefits for teams and organizations.  Benefits include delivering value sooner, delivering the right value, higher satisfaction and closer communication with business stakeholders, but those benefits are only sustainable if you are really practicing Agile.