Is it enough to bring our Agile tools to solve our organisations’ wider problems? This is the third part of a series of articles in which I’m wondering if we Agile enthusiasts are arrogant in our desire to change our organisations through wider application of Agile techniques. You can also read part one (introduction) and part two (understanding the problems).
I spoke earlier this year at the Gilb Seminar, whose broad theme was principles and proverbs for pleasing people. I half joked that it was an incredible coincidence that Tom Gilb specialised in quantification and disambiguation, and every major organisation he had walked into had problems that just-so-happened were resolved through quantification and disambiguation.
Of course, that’s not just true of Tom, but for all of us. I’ve worked with organisations where I’ve successfully helped them using my skills in Agile, collaboration and delivery, and yet I know many people who — if they’d have had the same opportunity — would have been just as successful using their (different) skills.
The principle or proverb at work here is: If all you’ve got is a hammer then everything looks like a nail. And different people can be equally successful each with their own hammers.
Unfortunately the converse is also true. Many of those same companies who my peers or I have successfully helped had gone through earlier periods of attempted-change that didn’t work, and the tools used for those attempted-but-failed changes have often been exactly the same tools that the later, successful people have used. Why did the same tools fail before and succeed later? Often because the people who tried to implement them the first time around did not approach the problem in the right way. Sometimes it was because they didn’t approach people well and rubbed them up the wrong way; sometimes it was because they had ineffective champions; sometimes it was because they chose the wrong balance of (the same) tools in their arsenal.
Either way, the outcome is the same. One person can fail with a set of tools where another person would succeed.
The principle or proverb at work here is: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
The lesson for Agile evangelists is fundamental. You may have had a Damascene moment when you discovered Agile, but be aware you cannot simply translate your epiphany to other people in other situations. Other techniques are available; the way you approach a situation is critical.
Of course, this is not to say Agile is not useful, or cannot be translated to areas of an organisation outside of technology. In the final part I’ll look at what such translation might look like. That will be in a couple of weeks, after my tech quiz of the year 2012…