It is often said, by those in the personal training industry, that you cannot out-train a bad diet. What is meant by that, is that you could run 10 miles per day, then spend another hour in the gym pumping iron, but if you exist on a diet of fast food and beer, you are unlikely to achieve the health and fitness that you desire. The two things work together. Eat well, train well, get the body you have always wanted.
The same can be said of achieving business agility. I see it all the time. Organisations want to be ‘Agile’. They want to be able to quickly respond to the market. They want to be able to get value out to their customers every two weeks. They want shorter feedback loops to de-risk their development. These are noble pursuits. Unfortunately, many organisations do not understand the implications of their decision to become ‘Agile’. There is a belief that Agile frameworks can just be layered on top of the delivery teams and not much else will change. The frameworks (Scrum, XP, LeSS etc.) are not magic bullets. They will not fix all of the issues in your organisation. Sorry about that. It would make my life a whole lot easier if they did. It is important that expectations are set early regarding what is involved in an Agile adoption. Take Scrum for example. Scrum is a fantastically powerful framework, and it is intentionally incomplete. Whilst it will not fix your organisation, it will make visible the organisational issues that do require fixing. Think of it like a personal trainer. It can show you what needs to be changed, but it cannot make the change for you. Leaders in the organisation must continuously recognise the issues that have been exposed and, supported by an experienced coach, take responsibility for making the necessary changes to enable agility.
Many coaches will take your money and claim that they can help organisations towards agility whilst being ‘pragmatic’. It is a tough balancing act between pushing too hard, too fast on one side, and enabling organisational dysfunction on the other. There is significant money to be made telling organisations that it’s OK to keep their dispersed, component teams. That it’s OK to have separate test, analysis and architecture departments. That they can achieve agility whilst writing a 2000 item Product Backlog up-front and getting it signed off before development starts. That investing in technical excellence is optional. Large consultancies are masters of this. This avoids real change. I am not interested in these roles. I am interested in having a lasting impact on organisations. On helping them gain a competitive advantage in the market through true agility. Sometimes that involves delivering a message that is difficult to hear. An Agile spray-paint may make people feel good, but there will be little benefit if the tough decisions are not taken.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that will give you the perfect body. If there were, I would gratefully receive that extra hour in bed each morning and save a fortune in gym membership fees. Nope. There is no substitute for doing the work. Likewise, there is no mystical Agile framework that will create a high-performing product development capability without deep organisational change. Organisations need to decide how much they want the business benefits that increased agility brings. They must weigh this up against the cost and difficulty of change. And they must commit to taking the tough decisions. If they do not, they may label it as being ‘pragmatic’, but all they are likely to change is the language they use.