Adopting Agile Part 1: Make no little plans
Whenever I speak to customers about the benefits of adopting Agile, agility in and of itself is only part of the value. Too many companies make the mistake of confusing the Agile framework with a mechanism or tool to be used or manipulated, rather than a philosophy of working and thinking.
Yes, Agile is a framework far more efficient and ultimately more effective than traditional blueprints, but as a tool, it’s little more than a paint-by-numbers approach. The mechanical application of Agile always has a ceiling beyond which its benefits diminish. As a philosophy, it has the potential to take on a magical persona that literally transforms the business into something new, fresh, and possibly completely different.
The preeminent Chicago architect Daniel Burnham once said: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realised.” Few words better describe the Agile approach.
As magical as it is, Agile is not a magic wand. It takes a carefully considered process, matched to the personality of your business, to make it work, and once it does, that’s when the magic happens. The first steps may be gradual, some may only happen once off, others will be continual, and a few might even be radical.
These four steps apply differently to different organisations. Some just get it and do it. They make marvellous mistakes, learn from them, and grow. Agility is all about learning, adapting and making the scary jumps. It’s not just about accepting you have to improve; you have to take the steps to make it happen.
Others have to find the doorknob before they can twist it, and some, unfortunately, are like barnacles – they move so slowly they just don’t get it. That’s okay – it is what it is. Sometimes you need to learn to unlearn to see the real value of change.
But I digress. Once you ‘get it’ you’ll realise the real value of your business is already there. It’s in your people, or rather, your teams. These are talented individuals you’ve hired for a purpose. They must be special, or else why would you have hired them?
Don’t cap them. Don’t straddle them with little plans. Don’t tether yourself as an individual or as an organisation. Of course there are risks involved, and sometimes you have to break something to put it back together and make it work as it should.
What’s important to remember is that this is a conscious choice. You don’t wake up one day and decide you’re magical. Once you have the resolve, you need a plan, and a catalyst to make it happen.
More often than not, that catalyst is by necessity someone from outside your organisation – a coach or a leader with the experience and expertise to serve as a lighthouse for the business against the many storms the change entails.
I would go as far as saying that without a coach, Agile adoptions are bound to fail. You cannot cultivate energy from nothing, and Agile needs a massive infusion of energy at every level to be successful. You need someone who’s not attached to the machine, with all the limitations this brings, someone who can handle the hard truths and be resilient against the inevitable pushbacks.
With luck you might find that shining lights inside the business, but chances are your coach will find them for you. These become your evangelists, who take your ideas and run with them, and help make them grow from within.
You need both influences – external and internal – to put the philosophy into practice. Coaches because they’ve seen it all before – at another bank, retailer, insurance company or just about any other industry you can think of. They know the nuances and what makes these companies successful, what worked and what didn’t, and get you to your results quicker. Evangelists because they influence your people – their peers – and pass on their knowledge long after the coach has left.
By adopting Agile you’re assuming something amazing. Don’t limit its potential. Make big plans, and let passion, intellect and experience make them happen.