I have to straighten the picture!

I have always enjoyed fixing things that are off. I notice if a picture is hanging on the wall crooked or if a tag is peaking out of someone’s neckline as they walk down the street. While I generally avoid fixing the problem, I see the issue and could solve it. As an agile coach, I am often asked to help organizations that are struggling to make agile work for them. While every team and organization should leverage coaching it is often those that are struggling that are the most interested in help. A colleague, Doug Brindley, many years ago described this as the carrot and pear problem. Doug posited that organizations and literature describe projects as successful (most of the carrot is at the top not at the bottom of the root) while portfolios of projects look more like pears (most of the fruit is at the bottom). Doug’s metaphor was a statement that many more projects were troubled than organizations or the literature talked about. Adoptions of Scrum and other forms of agile are no different, we hear most about the successes. Based on a combination of observations and conversations with seasoned professionals (I do like virtual coffees and happy hours) I have identified five high-level patterns that lead to a need to reset, retrench, and change the pictures on the wall.

  • Poor Planning: Poor plans range from thinking all you need to do is to train people to generate a change or just trying to wing it. Coaching and change management is not used.
  • Listening To Bad Advice: Everyone has an opinion and is willing to share and sell that opinion. Action developed from bad advice that is a chronic problem every coach mentioned having to help undo. Copying approaches that worked in the past (maybe only once) or in other contexts are a form of bad advice. 
  • Poor Internal Support For Agile:  The rules developed by external groups such as Human Resources, Finance, Sourcing/Procurement, and business departments can have a dramatic impact on how an agile team behaves. Groups outside of the agile team(s) must understand how they need to act to support agile.
  • Inability To Address Poor Behavior: Being agile requires changing how you behave. Change requires supporting the behaviors that reflect the culture to which the organization aspires putting pressure on other behaviors. 
  • Shocks To The System:  Shocks come in many different forms. COVID-19 is a shock that will create ripples of change. Leadership changes in organizations are common and often have devastating impacts of change programs.

Many of these scenarios happen in quick succession. One story I heard during a conference after party was about a new CTO for a technology firm that immediately replaced the people coaching the agile transformation with another firm he was more familiar with. The focus went from Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) to the Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise (SAFe) in less than a day. While I am a fan of both (different approaches for different needs and cultures) the stress within the organization was still felt a year later. I am told there is a betting pool for when they will try something new. Understanding the problem and taking the correct approach can avoid or at least mitigate all these scenarios.

Next: Let’s dive into specifics!