Culture called Agile

Agile is a paradigm change. Agile usually gets introduced in an organization as a new framework, new methodology, with new techniques, so on (Though, there is nothing ‘new ‘ to it) . Agile, after all said and done, is about culture. And philosophy. I am not saying that thinking in terms on framework, methodology, techniques is wrong, but we are not doing us a favour by not beginning at the beginning. This way maybe true agile will elude us.

In 90s, many organizations pretended that by ignoring the uncertainties inherent to software development, the uncertainties will simply go away. Like financial institutions pretending to ignore the black swans. So the some organizations built mammoth structure to control more and more minutely, more and more frequently. They gave an illusion of change, a false security. Meanwhile Standish group’s Chaos reports did good business.

Much has already been said about what the organization culture ought to be to nurture true agile. Definition is the easy part. The trick is in the transformation. And there you start seeing cognitive dissonance. They now have to deal with the layers and layers of concrete poured over the years. Change is so difficult. Much easier is the illusion of change. It’s not easy to unlearn gantt chart; or unlearn that actuals is garbage; or unlearn that time reporting is lame; or learn that pair programming is not waste of time; or relearn that ‘accurate estimate’ is an oxymoron; or learn that team’s and not programmer’s productivity matters.

The way to begin the transformation is to unlearn and relearn. Better to begin top down. The grassroot level, sensing freedom, might already have started changing. But there’s a lot to do there too. Years of command and control had inured masses and they wait for directions, which in the name of agile, never comes. They are deer in headlights. Mentor them to find and build ways. Teach them to own up. Show them the vision. Empowerment never can come if all one sees is laying bricks and not building cathedral. Clichéd metaphor, I know. Steve Jobs once famously hired John Sculley from PepsiCo asking him ” Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” . That is showing what vision is. (It is another story what Sculley did to Jobs later).

The managers by then should start building the right culture. But culture gets build brick by brick, over sometime decades. One can also start coaching  the right philosophy. Build the practices to support the philosophy. Build the techniques to support the practices. Use the tools to practice the practices. If you start at practices ignoring the culture or philosophy part, people  might be left standing with the why? questions. And they will end up in laying bricks, not building cathedral.

It’s all in culture. Right culture will spawn the right process. Right process will spawn the right techniques. If it doesn’t happen, look back at the culture, it might be broken. That way, anyday I will prefer ‘waterfall’ with right culture than so called agile with a wrong one. Scrum is after all the framework to help you reach that level of excellence.

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