Like most North American kids growing up in an urban environment, my son learned to drive cars with an automatic transmission. Now that he’s been driving for a year, I’m starting to teach him to handle a manual transmission. While the most visible aspect of this is shifting, the exquisite art (to quote the Bride) lies in the proper use of the clutch. Once a driver develops the feel for a clutch and is able to find that sweet spot between dormant and stalling so that they can get a car rolling without the use of the gas pedal, the rest is mere mechanics.
Golf presents a similar scenario – learning to swing a club is secondary to mastering weight transfer. Through practice, once that skill becomes second nature, the rest of the swing will come. But if we start with the top down approach of learning to swing using the shoulders and arms, it will take much longer to develop a good swing.
Agile works much the same way.
Just because we divide our project’s timeline into sprints, conduct daily standups and bi-weekly retrospectives and ask our teams to self-organize, if the underlying behaviors of senior leaders, mid-level managers and team members don’t change, we are just putting lipstick on a pig.
Behavior and mindset changes don’t happen overnight and it’s not easy to confirm what has changed the way one can when introducing a practice or tool change.
This reinforces the importance of a change strategy for all levels of stakeholders involved with the project. While they might appreciate the benefits of agile delivery, if they haven’t reflected on the mindset changes required, stakeholders will act like chickens when we’d need them to be pigs. Senior leaders, delivery and control partners need to understand how they will need to adapt before they are put on the spot to support an agile project. Embracing the change won’t happen overnight which is why effective coaching is required to enable them to become the advocates we need to champion changes with their peers.
The challenge is that there is usually a demand to demonstrate value from a change in delivery approach within a reasonably short time.
That is why it is best to start with one or two small projects to provide a safe opportunity to try, fail, learn and improve.
Start with practices and tools and Cargo Cult behavior is almost a guarantee.