By Stephen de Villiers Graaff
The journey of Agile transformation has no fixed destination.
You don’t have a project plan where you’re suddenly ’55 per cent Agile’, just as it’s nonsensical to think there’s some form of paint-by-numbers implementation you can put in place and voila, you’re Agile.
Problematically, as with any journey, the beginnings and the ends tend to carry an inordinate amount of perceived value. If you invest too much planning in the beginning, chances are most of it will be wasteful, because things invariably change along the way. You’ll want just enough planning to get you started, and then recalibrate along the way.
The end is equally juxtapositional. Is the implementation of a new business system the end of that process? No, because living software extends well beyond the end of that ‘project’. It almost challenges the concept of having a project – this finite piece of effort – in the first place, but that’s a conundrum for another article.
Which brings me to the story of a young Argentine-born doctor called Ernesto Lynch. The eldest of five children of Irish and Basque decent, Ernesto was, by all accounts, an ordinary guy. Walk past him in the street and you probably wouldn’t look at him twice. At the beginning of his journey, there’s not even a hint of the incredibly charismatic and ultimately polarising figure he would one day become.
In 1950, during his medical studies, Ernesto took it upon himself to travel 4,500 kilometres on a motorised bicycle through the rural provinces of northern Argentina, to experience life outside his own and satisfy his “hunger to explore the world”. It was his first expedition, lighting a fire inside him that would never be quenched. A second, longer expedition in 1951 saw him mount a motorcycle for an 8,000 kilometre journey across most of South America, including a few weeks spent volunteering at the San Pablo leper colony in Peru.
Along his travels, Ernesto’s discoveries would change the way he viewed the world, and in doing so, change the fate of millions. Among his experiences, he became enraged by the squalid working conditions of the miners in Anaconda's Chuquicamata copper mine, and repulsed by a persecuted communist couple he met in the Atacama Desert who did not even own a blanket, describing them as "the shivering flesh-and-blood victims of capitalist exploitation".
He was crushed by the poverty of people living in remote areas, enslaved to wealthy landlords, and impressed by the unspoken camaraderie of the leper colonies he visited, noting that the “highest forms of human solidarity and loyalty arise among such lonely and desperate people”.
Such was the impact of the journey on his psyche, that when he returned, Ernesto Lynch was no more. In his place stood the man in one of the most iconic photographs of all time: Alberto Korda’s portrait of Che Guevara.
Even as Ernesto Lynch became Che Guevara, it wasn’t the end of his journey, but the beginning of his revolution. As history will tell you, he went on to play an integral part in Fidel Castro’s invasion of Cuba, promoted to second in command and dubbed by Time Magazine as “Castro’s brain”.
Ernesto’s journey was his transformation. From a quiet and unassuming medical student, to a ruthless rebel and revolutionary, there was no point at which he stopped, always pushing and learning and changing, becoming simultaneously reviled and revered. Regardless of how you see him, there’s no denying that he’s instantly recognisable.
As an organisation working through your own Agile transformation, you should expect to encounter things you never imagined when you first set out. Then, when you reach the ‘end’, you’d have experienced so many changes that the end will merely signify the beginning of your next transformation.
You can’t plan for it, because you can’t plan for something you don’t know. Like Ernesto, all you can do is take that first step, get onto the bicycle, and find your Korda moment.
An Agile transformation is not like a product you buy off the shelf and install in your business. It’s a long, sometimes rigorous journey, often fraught with unexpected challenges and constantly changing landscapes. In this three-part series, DVT’s Agile evangelist Stephen de Villiers Graaff explores three definitive facets of the Agile mindset, told vividly though unique and colourful stories from contemporary history.