“Private school” may work better than “public school” when adopting agile practices!

privateschoolWith the popularity that the agile movement has enjoyed over the last dozen years, one would expect that implementations of agile methods would be increasingly successful, but unfortunately this doesn’t appear to be the case.  The difficulty faced in gaining sustained traction is that staff appear to focus on “doing” agile instead of “being” agile.

The analogy can be made with management practices – as McGregor wrote in The Human Side of Enterprise “The manager whose underlying assumptions are those of Theory X cannot manage by integration and self-control no matter what techniques or forms are provided him“.  With agile, if staff follow agile practices but haven’t embraced the underlying principles of the movement, they are not likely to achieve its benefits.

While this transformation is needed for executives, the customer and the team, the impact to the role of the project manager may be the most significant.

For those project managers who are trained to manage scope tightly beyond the establishment of a baseline, they will have to struggle with not issuing change requests as they see the customer clarifying their understanding of requirements.  On the other hand, should the project manager completely ignore the nature of scope changes, they may find themselves in a situation where requirements are never converging regardless of the number of sprints or iterations completed.

A similar struggle may happen when it comes to monitoring and controlling work progress.  “Command and control” project managers may be unwilling to relinquish their need for detailed progress updates and daily sprints might turn into marathons.  Some may act as a bottleneck by trying to control communication flow between the team and the customer.  Other project managers may take an entirely hands-off approach which might result in team members reverting to bad habits such as commencing (but not completing) multiple work items.

The successful agile project manager is the one who incorporates the principles of the Manifesto and other foundational agile works into their overall approach.  The difficulty is that this transformation is very hard to generate by oneself.

The typical approach to implementation of agile methods is to contract external expertise to help guide an organization through the change.  A downside with this approach is that it is very challenging for one individual no matter how experienced to effectively support transformation across multiple roles.  Maybe a better approach would be to match coaches with specific roles.  While this might seem cost-prohibitive, the higher degree of attention may result in a faster rate of adoption so the cost difference might be a wash.

Categories: Agile, Facilitating Organization Change | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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