Psst. Wanna buy an agile?

In the last decade almost everyone who has heard of software development has cottoned onto Agile methods and how they can help teams and organisations be better and add more value. This has led to a massive increase in demand for experienced thought leaders, coaches and “do-ers”. A demand that far outstrips supply. To fill the gap there is a fairly new clutch of branded agilists.

This is where it gets tricky to operate as a buyer of agile help. And trickier still as an ethical Agilist who cares about people. I am sick to the back teeth of wandering into so-called agile organisations and finding a horror story where agile is akin to snake oil. (It really doesn’t help when the goal is agile. What do they think that means? What do they expect agility to give them?)

One client I worked with had been using a so-called agile supplier to develop a simple website. I joined six months in only to find the code had never been deployed anywhere, and heck there was nowhere to deploy to. It took a further three months to convince the supplier team that they really couldn’t claim “shippable product increment” unless they knew 1. where to deploy it, 2. how to deploy it and 3. had tried deploying it. The same supplier refused to share stories with the development team until planning day, refused to see that a retrospective was a key opportunity to inspect and adapt…and various small things that meant that 14 months later and the team still had no infrastructure, and instead of delivering a minimal product they were looking for complexities to add…simply to keep the agile development team working at full capacity.

To top it all off my client was happy with the supplier because they were seeing something every two weeks..albeit simply html wireframes. And they were nice people. They never once challenged anything in the legacy organisation. Even when they were running months late and with massive challenges, no-one was asking why. There were multiple other reasons why this group failed to deliver, if only I could find a fractal and relational modelling tool I’d show you!

Yuk.

Often during transformation people learn some awkward truths, and sometimes it’s deemed to be the agile consultant or consultancy who are merely trouble makers – or even agile itself is commonly blamed (we tried that once – it made things worse/didnt work). The gains to be made from change are not always apparent, and through intelligent dialogue problems are often uncovered that have been around forever…but not seen. Only then can we get better. When we know what the problems are. However if you never look, you never find, and the status quo or mild improvement can sustain a consultancy for years if stage managed. (I know of one independent consultant who has made £1million plus from selling pixie dust and charm)

Agility penetrates every layer of your organisation, not just development. It also doesn’t come in a neatly rolled ready to go carton. It takes skills, experience and tools to assess and work with a client to define the way forward. Sometimes it’s the right thing to install a method like SAFe or Scrum and change on the go, sometimes it’s better to keep the status quo and use a method like Kanban to figure out which bits really need change. And sometimes it’s just a couple of tweaks, a mindset shift, facilitation and information that’s needed.

So here I am, writing a series of blog posts designed to help you suss out if you’ve hired a charlatan, a wanna-be or an ego-maniac. Some of you will be lucky enough to have hired agile experts. But not many I’d wager.

Beware of….the agile consultants who

  • evangelise their own personal method (unless you’ve hired Jeff Sutherland, Ken Schwaber, Dean Leffingwell or their peers)
    • I see so many coaches and leaders come into organisations with their mind set on what they want to do, instead of understanding what their client needs. Worse still I’ve come across people in leadership positions (usually interim) who truly believe they have a (undocumented and untested) way of being Agile that is the best and only way for everyone.
    • This is dangerous because your team, your organisation is the testing ground for someone elses philosophy. It also usually comes with a “softly softly” approach which will cost you a lot in consultancy fees as they try to stick your square peg into their round hold.
    • How to spot one..they’re usually saying “My agile” or “The way I do agile”
    • For these cases – sack them. They are dangerous. Don’t even try to conquer their ego.
  • only has one string to his bow and wants to install it
    • Often baby coaches have had a singular fabulous experience in an Agile team and believe this can be recreated everywhere
    • Usually invested in only one of the Agile methods…and picks faults in the others. Doesn’t really get Agility and equates it to specific methods..which aren’t really the point here.
    • How to spot one…they slag off other methods or people who use multiple methods
    • For these cases…well it’s difficult. I was one of these myself many moons ago and I appreciate the opportunities I had to grow and learn with each new group. I recommend keeping them if they are open to trying new things and recognise their limited experience and knowledge. I’d sack them if they insist “X is the only way to be Agile” or if they continue to piss off your experienced Agile folks

We’ll explore more ways to rumble your agile consultant and consultancy in the coming weeks….. 

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