The word ‘agile’ has such polarising effects on people. There are the die-hard project management purists who still believe it’s a passing fad and then there are the agile evangelists who couldn’t imagine any other way of working. Personally I’ve had experience on both sides of the fence and from every angle imaginable and I believe that there’s a place for both. Just as Waterfall is absolutely the right approach for some projects, Agile is equally the right approach for others. What’s missing is the analysis behind determining which approach is best (I say best because there are more approaches than Waterfall and Agile out there). What would an organisation be like if it was able to determine the best approach to project delivery based on the project risk, the technology, the experience of the team, the size of the project, etc? But that’s not what this article is about. So many organisations are going ‘Agile’. Why? Because projects have a terrible reputation of coming in late, over budget, with poor visibility of progress and risks, etc., there has to be a better way, right? A silver bullet, perhaps? If your organisation has decided to implement Agile, this article will give you some idea of why even the best intentioned Agile implementations fail.
How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top. ~ Yvon Chouinard
In the early days of IT, the business would come to the technology team with a problem. The technology team would, of course, design a new IT solution (or buy an off-the-shelf one) and give it to the business. The business would then turn around and say, this isn’t what we needed and would be forced to modify their operational processes to fit in with the ‘solution’. If you’ve ever experienced this, you’re not alone. There has been a battle between technology and business from day dot, to the point where most large organisations hire a Relationship Manager to interpret the language of the other. You’ll very quickly recognise that in the above scenario, technology is being put first…but we know that’s wrong, don’t we? We all know (at least intellectually) that the most effective solutions (and organisations) follow the simple formula of People – Process – Technology…in that order!
What’s this got to do with Agile implementations? Well, we’ve just moved down the chain a little. Now we’re implementing a process in the hope that this will solve the people/team problem. It won’t, it will just make it worse. Remember that Agile is a philosophy first! SCRUM, Lean Development, DSDM, Extreme Programming are all just process manifestations of the philosophy. They are designed to encourage transparency, collaboration, open communication, and team harmony. However, just laying a process on top of already poor communication will only highlight the problem more. Laying a process on top of already poor collaboration will cause greater frustration and resentment among team members who don’t fully trust one another.
The unlike is joined together, and from differences results the most beautiful harmony. ~ Heraclitus
So what’s the answer? The answer is to start with People first. What are the skills that are needed to run a high performing team? Start here! Whenever I’m asked to come and work with a team of people (who, individually, are rock-stars!), I always start with the basics and that is working through a programme of advanced communication skills because if we can’t communicate at the level of trust and honesty that is required, nothing will change. There will be unhealthy conflict, people will clam up, focus on their own individual goals, or leave the team, citing it as toxic. The next step to focus on is breaking down those barriers that hold us all back, the fear that protects us. In a team environment, it’s vital that people who need help feel safe to put their hand up and ask for help. In a team environment, it’s vital that people who have made a mistake feel safe to call it out early so it can be fixed. In a team environment, it’s vital that people who need to communicate a problem to a team member does so professionally and for it to be taken with the intent in which it is meant. These are the things that make up vulnerability in a team and there is huge strength in vulnerability…HUGE strength!
He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. ~ Maori proverb
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.
The last point I want to make is that when changing a process or introducing a new way of working, your people must be taken on the journey. And not only that, once the process has been implemented, it’s not over. Make sure it’s working for people, always be listening and capturing feedback because, if the process is onerous and not adding value, people will work around it.
The above points are really only the tip of the iceberg, but are probably the most important things to get right before even considering implementing a new process. Agile is a terrific approach to delivering software and, to get the very best out of it, make sure you invest in the people and the team before doing anything else.
If you’d like to know more about creating a high performing team (or culture), or if you’d like to explore how coaching can help you become a better leader (of others or yourself!), or even if you’re just generally curious about what professional coaching can offer you, please contact us at any time for a free consultation.
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