I’m seeing increased similarities between online hype surrounding agile and the marketing of weight loss products. Losing weight or being agile are being promoted as the main objective when both of these are just a means to an end.
We don’t invest significant effort and cost just to lose weight. We want to feel better about ourselves, look slimmer for others or gain health benefits.
Similarly, agility should never be a goal until itself – we need to define what we are hoping to realize by achieving a higher level of agility.
This is an important distinction.
If our focus is purely on becoming more agile, it can cause leadership teams to define overly ambitious time frames for achieving certain objectives or demanding unrealistic levels of capability given their industry, culture or other context. This is similar to someone who doesn’t attempt to connect their weight loss desires to specific achievable outcomes. Over time, this can cause the individual to engage in obsessive dieting behavior which might leave them worse off than before.
A traditional, multi-product large company undergoing an agile transformation should always aspire to reaching a higher level of capability, but it is doubtful that they will ever be as agile as a new, small startup. I enjoy playing golf and try to set achievable goals for myself each playing season but comparing myself to a PGA tour professional will demoralize me and eventually cause me to give up the game.
When managing projects, it is wise to understand what the relative priority of the constraints on a given project are. If a sponsor indicates that delivering on time is most important, then cost, scope, quality and other constraints could be subordinated to schedule.
With an agile transformation it may be advisable for the supporting leadership team to prioritize their objectives before getting started. Are they primarily focused on increasing customer value, is it about improving quality, cost containment or increasing the engagement and happiness of their team members? It can be very educational to have each senior executive rank a predefined list of such outcomes individually and then have the leadership team compare the differences in perception. This exercise might help to avoid misalignment issues at a later stage of the transformation.
If we don’t know where we are going and why we want to get there, no road will take us there.