Smarter ideas worth writing about.

Agile As A Means To An End, Not The End Itself

Tags: Agile Enablement


I don't know about you, but I am always trying to understand the reasons behind everything. Why are we creating a new website, why should we hire in new people, why do I feel sleepy after lunch, why, why, why….

Why do I have such a need to understand the reasons for things? Dang it, I did it again! 

I believe that the most important step in any initiative, large or small, is to identify and clearly define a problem statement.  

Have you ever seen this picture?

It illustrates a common situation, where a customer asks for a solution, but by the time the product is completed the customer ends up getting a different result. This cartoon depicts the main issue with problem solving: communication. Ultimately there was a lack of mutual understanding of what was really needed and why

I often go back to this picture to help people understand the need for multiple conversations to answer many "whys" and the importance of defining a problem statement and expected outcomes. 

The paradigm illustrated in this cartoon is applicable beyond traditional software development initiatives; it can also illustrate an unsuccessful Agile transformation or adoption initiative. I have witnessed a few less than successful Agile initiatives and a lot of them failed due to a lack of broad understanding of why – Why are we transforming to, or adopting Agile

When I speak to people that are considering Agile or are currently in a team labeled as an "Agile Team", I ask WHY!? Why are you considering Agile? Why did your team adopt Agile? 

Believe it or not, most people don’t have an answer to that question and I get to hear responses like these:

"Upper management told us we needed to go Agile."
"I don't know, isn't that what we're supposed to do?"
"Because Agile is the new industry standard for software development."
"All the cool kids are doing it!" 

These responses lead me to believe that while the Change Agent that initiated the transformation or adoption may have had all the right intentions, there was a lack of understanding and continuous communication regarding the reasons for such initiative. 

Without a clear understanding of the problem(s) you're trying to solve, you may find yourself lost in the process and never really reaching a point of completion or sense of accomplishment. Worse yet, you may not be able to sustain your change long term as there wouldn't be a broad acceptance of why it should be sustained – the value! 

A tool I have used in the past to help in analyzing and defining the problem statement is the A3 Report - originally created and used by Toyota. The A3 Report provides a summary of the most essential information needed to solve a problem - great for broad communication and upper management buy-in conversations. 

Agile is a collection of values, principles, frameworks and methods and it is also a mindset. If you're considering a transformation or Agile adoption, I would encourage you to think of Agile as a means to an end, not the end itself

Focusing on defining the problem at hand and a vision in business terms will help you understand how Agile can address your problem(s) and help you achieve your vision. There are many different ways to transition into Agile and different ways of forming standing teams - a clear vision and end goal will be crucial to aligning the most appropriate strategy and sustaining such change long-term.