Recently I ran a workshop with a group of developers, business analysts and testers on the agile principles and how they can help individuals and team to “be agile” instead of just “doing agile”. The one thing that stood out for me was how words such as collaborative, innovative and open mindedness were things that that teams wanted to work on but really had no idea about how to go about achieving it.
The connection between these aspirational words and their practice in real life is quite difficult to make. When asked about how do people become open minded, the response was “we make them open minded”. But this is not so easy to do, is it?
Agile is asking people to change the way they think, their values, their way of working and in some cases their beliefs. But people can’t be changed just by telling them to change. Some things cannot simply be unlearned. So the question becomes, how do we initiate the change so that it is gradual enough to be accepted but not too fast so that it seems like it is being imposed?
This is where it is essential organisational leaders become involved. A team cannot “be agile” in its own right, this only comes from organisational change. Leaders and managers need to adopt and implement the principles of agile throughout the whole organisation to instigate the cultural change that is required. To achieve this, leaders need to be comfortable letting go of the top down management paradigm and recognise that everyone within the organisation can positively contribute ideas and changes. For example, typically requirements and new functionality are brought to the team, either from upper management (who think of a good idea) or from the product owner / manager (who is the one who talks to end users). How often are idea’s suggested by the team? Ask yourself, is there a successful mechanism in your organisation for capturing team ideas and testing them out?
Basically, instead of trying to get your development teams to be more agile in their thinking, first look to your leaders and managers. Start with the agile principles as they would apply at an organisational level rather than a team level. Discuss the benefits of each and look at practical ways that they can be implemented within your organisation.
Do not expect to work on everything at once, start off with applying one change and test the results (although this implies that you have a mechanism for measuring the results). Then as the principles say “reflect and adapt”. It is a continuous journey but one that will ultimately result in a more robust, confident and dynamic workplace.