Re-imagine your Scrum to firm up your agility

Many of today’s enterprises are hardly fit to play a leading role in today’s world. They are designed on the past-world premises of stability and high predictability, of repetitive work with easily scalable results. They experience profound difficulties having to navigate the predominantly uncertain and unpredictable seas of today’s world. An increase in agility is needed. They adopt Scrum. Rather than updating their past-world structures while introducing Scrum, they twist Scrum to fit their current organization. No more than an illusion of agility is created as a result.

Imagine they would re-imagine their Scrum and re-emerge their organization to firm up their agility…

Organizations, certainly if they have been around for a while, grew into very complicated and extremely interdependent internal structures. These structures are often the root of the problems organizations seek to resolve by adopting Scrum. Work is essentially seen and organized as assembly line work. Many bodies, meetings, hand-overs, resources, deliverables, processes and departments are required to produce and deliver even the smallest chunks of work.

Organizations naturally revert to familiar recipes when facing the need to become more Agile, including mass-production and cascaded approaches, separate transformation projects, copy-pasting what other organizations do or blindly following blueprint prescriptive models.

Individuals are grouped into ‘teams’. The teams are ‘coached’ into complying with standard sets of practices and processes, unified Sprint lengths and electronic process tools. This is uniformly done across the whole organization, regardless business domain, expertise or technology at play.

The existing organizational constructs are not touched, or touching them is cleverly obstructed, if not sabotaged. Teams (often micro-sized) are typically established within existing departments or other forms of functional separations. Higher-up optimizations, like synergies across teams and departments, are ignored in the same way they were before. The systemic disconnectedness that used to inhibit collaborative problem solving between individuals now inhibits collaborative problem solving between micro teams.

More Agile teams does not make a more Agile organization.

Practitioners worldwide turned Scrum into the most applied definition of Agile. Despite Scrum being the new reality, most organizations continue struggling with Scrum. They struggle as they think teams can be constructed. They struggle as they try to map Scrum’s accountabilities on existing functions. They struggle to understand that inspection without adaptation is pointless in Scrum. They struggle to understand how Scrum can wrap a variety of practices, allowing each expression of Scrum to be tuned to a specific context without fundamentally altering the framework. They struggle to re-invent their organization around Scrum to inject agility in their internal structures, although this will ultimately be reflected in their business outcomes. Organizations lack the imagination to picture how Scrum can work for them, mentally blocked to think beyond their current set-up.

Can you imagine Scrum being employed as designed and intended, regardless your current organization? Do you have the will to deeply reflect? Go back to the ‘why’ of your Scrum? Face your clear and apparent urgency? And take action? Recover, reboot, re-imagine?

In order to firm up their agility, courageous seekers re-imagine their Scrum to start re-emerging their organization. They leave behind past attempts, choices and approaches (all that didn’t work). Over-ambition, magnitude anxiety and deflation angst are mitigated by downsizing to small again and subsequently growing iterative-incrementally. They go through incredibly hard work when they:

1/ Re-consider what the ‘product’ is for the implementation of Scrum (or select another clearly bounded and meaningful initiative). Slicing the initiative if it is too BIG.

2/ Re-imagine Scrum for the selected product/initiative/slice.

    • Use Product Backlog as the single plan, holding all development work, whether technical, functional or non-functional. Establish what it means for product Increments to be releasable.
    • Reset the accountabilities to Product Owner, Scrum Master(s) and Development Team(s), full-time dedicated to the initiative and optimizing for the whole rather than for titles, positions and utilization. The eco-system, this newly established Scrum zone, is facilitated with tools, infrastructure and space.

3/ Create coherent, small and tasteful sashimi releases, no later than by the end of each Sprint, through a controlled and automated deployment pipeline.

Repeat.

Courageous seekers take a few Sprints before expanding to a next product/initiative while still improving the existing initiative(s) and relentlessly removing all impediments to the envisioned state of product delivery. Is an environment in place where people are willing to demonstrate the undiluted accountabilities of Scrum? Are teams self-organizing toward delivering releasable Increments providing start-to-finish value, no later than by the end of a Sprint? Are the teams fully equiped with all skills needed, a dedicated team space, all tools, infrastructure and authorizations?

It takes quite some persistence and belief to keep fighting the past-world tendency to control individuals. Remind yourself (or welcome others reminding you) that value is in the outcome of the work, not in the volume produced. At the Sprint Reviews, consider the value a team has potentially created in a Sprint, and align with them on what seems most valuable to work on next. Move away from judging individuals for their hours spent on individual tasks. Team Engagement is the key.

People who are engaged actually care a lot more about customer outcomes and profitability.

Continue re-thinking your internal constructions as initiatives grow, new initiatives spin up and start delivering value. Solve further organizational issues and inadequate policies as you run into them. Start re-emerging the organization upon conscious acts of re-imagining Scrum; funding, HR policies, rewards and incentives, governance, quality assurance, sales and marketing, legal and regulatory compliance. Unleash a way of working that will sometimes lead you to quite unpredictable destinies.

It is hard work. It is a path of learning, experimenting, falling and getting back up. It is transforming how you work, not adding work and complexity to what you already do. It is gradually re-merging your organization towards a networked system of self-sustaining product hubs. A product hub grows or shrinks as needed (following product ambitions and market needs). A product hub is added or disappears as needed (when spinning up or exiting a product). Embed the empirical approach of inspection and adaptation in your managerial practice and in your organizational set-up.

Use Scrum to grow Scrum.

 

The illusion of agility (what most Agile transformations end up delivering)

Agility is a unique and continuously evolving state that is typical to a specific organization. It is a state that corresponds to the combination of an organization’s people, set-up and history. A traditional (industrial) approach to becoming more Agile commonly creates no more than an illusion of agility.

Agility is a specific state as it reflects the unique lessons and learnings that an organization and its inhabitants went and go through. It reflects the way in which specific annoyances and hindrances were and are overcome, the many inspections and  adaptations that occur along the journey. It is a state that prepares organizations for the unknown future challenges that will demand distinct responses.

Agility is a unique signature with imprints of all people involved and their relationships and interactions, of used and abandoned tools, processes, and practices, of the constructs within and across the many eco-systems that make out an organization, potentially even stretching across the organization’s boundaries.

No model can predict, anticipate or outline the unique signature that an organization’s state of agility is.

However, many of our organizations have their roots, and their beliefs, in the past industrial age. As they feel the need and the pressure to increase their agility, they naturally revert to familiar, yet old-school, industrial recipes. They undertake cautiously planned attempts to gently shift to the Agile paradigm (although they need to leap) wrapped in separate change projects (although their organizations need re-integration). They look around and imitate what other organizations do. They copy-paste what others, regardless whether they operate in the same economical domain or not, claim brought them success. They enforce unified ways of working and practices in a cascaded and mass-production way. They rely on text-book models that prescribe generic pre-empted blueprints of organizational structures. The learnings and the hard work needed to acquire sustainable agility, tuned to the organization’s specific context, are conveniently ignored.

Ironically, these are the exact approaches that block these organizations in their growth. These are the exact ways of working that they need to abandon in order to enter and survive the new worlds, the worlds that require a higher agility.

The mismatch is fundamental. They need and want to hose down  their industrial ways, yet they end up re-enforcing them. No more than an illusion of agility is created as a result. This is painfully revealed when the deflation by reality hits hard, often after several years. When the actual increase in agility turns out negligible, a painful finding certainly in the face of the urgency. The actual results turn out disappointing. The lost time is a catastrophe.

Increasing agility is a path. Progressing on that path requires vision, belief, persistence and… hard work. Agility, as a state of high adaptiveness, can only be achieved by regularly… adapting. Adaptations only make sense upon inspections of actual work and observable results. Think feedback loops (all around). The new reality, for which higher agility is needed, mandates that what works today might not work tomorrow. What works for one company (i.e. a complex system of interconnected people, processes and tools) might not work for another company. What works for one combination of teams, technology and business might not work for another combination.

Signposts that might help you detect whether an illusion of agility is being created:

  • It is not a transformation if it doesn’t change how you work;
  • It is not an Agile transformation if it doesn’t simplify how you work;
  • It is not an Agile transformation of Scrum if it doesn’t increase the actual collaboration of people (customers, teams, stakeholders).

Note. None of the above makes sense if no proper attention is given to technical excellence.

The new reality tells us we need to act in the moment more than we did before. Ever. Embracing uncertainty and unpredictability has a great potential too. Getting the most out of the possible thrives upon acceptance of the unwritten state of the future and what that future might bring. It reminds us that we are not alone in this, that each individual, no matter their function, level, position or silo, can contribute. Living the art of the possible against unpredicted outcomes has the potential benefit of engaging people as it shapes their future. Acceleration comes from vision, determination and dedication; from the courage to move away from following a plan or copying a model to continually shaping and re-shaping your future.

Regardless an organization’s past attempts and choices, the path of hard work is always a workable way out, a way to break the illusion of agility.

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Agility, actually (is an organisational state of being)

Agility is an organisation’s state of high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness. Agility is an organisation’s state of continual adaptation and optimisation, a state in which each status quo is challenged, by our own will or by external turbulence.

Agility is a state that is a natural fit for the unpredictability so common to the work of complex product delivery and to the markets that organisations operate within. However, it requires accepting that the work is unpredictable, a mental barrier to overcome. Agility is why teams and organisations adopt Agile processes. From that adoption agility increases, a new of working emerges, new organisational ways of learning, improving and constant adaptation, and restored respect for people, re-humanisation.

Scrum helps. The distinct rules of Scrum help. Scrum is actionnable. Agile and Scrum, actually, are two inseparable ingredients in a complex product delivery ecosystem. Scrum can be your foundation for agility. Sprints are at the heart of business agility in generating a regular flow of improvements, updates, learnings and various other sources of value. Organisations discover, experiment and deliver on opportunities from an end-to-end perspective in the fastest possible way. People develop new ways of working; through discovery, experimentation-based implementation and collaboration. They enter this new state of being, this state of agility; a state of constant change, evolution and improvement. Re-humanisation takes place. Innovation surfaces again.

The path of increasing agility via Scrum is inevitably bound to be a cobblestone path. It might take some time to accept that agility starts and ends with people, not with procedures or tools. It might take some time to accept that agility takes time, that agility need not be analyzed, designed and planned. It might take some time to accept that agility occurs:

  • Agility can’t be planned;
  • Agility can’t be dictated;
  • Agility has no end-state.

A time-planned way to become (more) agile introduces unfavourable expectations. Introducing Agile methods to increase agility causes significant organisational change. Several existing procedures, departments and functions will be impacted. There is no way of predicting what needs will be encountered at what point in time, how these will be dealt with and what the exact outcome will be in order to control next steps. It is a highly complex and unpredictable journey. There is no way of predicting the pace at which the state of agility will take root and spread.

Scrum and agility are much more about behaviour than about (following) a new process. A decision to adopt Scrum is a decision to leave the old ways behind. It is not only about accepting but about celebrating the fact that agility is living the art of the possible. It requires the courage, honesty and conviction of acting in the moment, acting upon the reality that is exposed by iterative-incremental progress information. Agility is about doing the best possible at every possible moment, constrained by the means we have and facing the constraints. A time-planned way ignores the essence of Scrum and Agile, that of dealing with complexity via well-considered steps of experimentation and learning. Time-plans simply extend the old thinking. In general a plan will even slow down the overall increase of agility, because serious delays and waiting times are incorporated.

Time-plans create the illusion of deadlines and a final end-state. Agility has no end-state.

Living the art of the possible engages people and accelerates a transformation as it shapes the future, thrives upon the future and what the future might bring. It’s a bright future for organizations that have the vision, the determination and the dedication.

These basic truths must be in the hearts and minds of every person managing, guiding, facilitating, hoping or striving for agility. And even then, it takes time for agility to settle in the hearts and minds of the people impacted. After all, people have been instructed in the wrong behavior of the industrial paradigm for 15 to 20 years, or more. Agility starts and ends with people, not with tools, procedures or games.

Agility (inconvenient truths)

 

 

Agile and Scrum, actually

In early 2001, with the creation of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the adjective ‘agile’ obtained a specific meaning in the context of software development. The manifesto, commonly known as the Agile Manifesto, holds 4 value statements with 12 principles behind it. In these values and principles the signatories of the manifesto captured the mindset, the DNA, common to their approaches to software development.

Over the years to follow, Agile became a proper noun, capitalized, pretty popular and ultimately big business as the methods for Agile software development were increasingly adopted. Success obfuscates and diminishes actionability, it seems. Today “Agile” is all over the place; coming in many flavors, wrappings, definitions, interpretations, and discounted. “Agile” sells. It is probably the most used prefix for roles, jobs, positions, functions and phases found in the software industry. The fact that Agile is a set of values and principles is easily ignored, as are the actual values and principles themselves.

Correlating ‘scaling’ to Agile has a similar neglect. Tactics change with scale. Strategies change with scale. Values and principles don’t change with scale. Claims and statements on the need, the ability, the inability, the whatever to scale Agile are plainly besides the point. Values and principles are agnostic of scale.

Agility, as an extension of Agile, refers to the state that people, teams, organizations hope to achieve by adopting Agile development processes. Agility, as such an extension, is a state of high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness; a state of constant invocation of change, evolution and improvement. A state of agility enables people, teams, organizations to better deal with the natural complexity and unpredictability of the work of software development itself, the organizational context within which it happens and the external circumstances faced. The adoption of Agile indeed is an important foundation for this (business or enterprise) agility.

Scrum emerged in the early ’90s from the work of Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber. They formalised and turned Scrum into a cohesive set of rules and roles for complex product development, that was formally presented to the public for the first time in 1995. The definition of Scrum, its rules and roles are described in the Scrum Guide. Both co-creators of Scrum are signatories of the Agile Manifesto. The values and principles of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development underpin the Scrum framework which thrives on empiricism and self-organization. Scrum is better understood when seen through the lens of the Agile Manifesto.

As with Agile, the Scrum Values and Scrum’s fundamental roles and rules as described in the Scrum Guide don’t change with scale. But scaled implementations of Scrum require different tactics in implementing the rules.

In Scrum, actually… Agile is the DNA driving the behavior throughout the software development ecosystem.

Agile and Scrum, actually, are two inseparable ingredients in a software development ecosystem.

Agility can’t be planned

I have been fortunate. I have been involved in some larger scale Scrum transformations. I have learned much. I have much to learn.

Here are some basics that are fundamental to set the right expectations for a enterprise Scrum transformation. I will relentlessly repeat and remind these. Because introducing agile without accepting these essential truths closes the door to the path to agility instead of turning it into a gateway of opportunities.

Agility can’t be planned. Agility can’t be dictated. Agility is never ready.

A time-planned way to introduce agile at an organizational scale sets unfavorable expectations. Change processes are highly complex and therefore not predictable. And agility is much more than following a new process. It is about behavior, it is about cultural change. In a transformation towards an agile way of working, there is no way of predicting what change needs will be encountered at what point in time, how these are to be dealt with and what the exact outcome will be. There is no way of predicting the pace at which the change will spread and finally take root.

A decision to move to agile is a decision to leave the old ways behind. It is not only about accepting but about celebrating that agility is living the art of the possible. It requires the courage, honesty and conviction of acting in the moment, acting upon the reality that is exposed by iterative-incremental progress information. Agility is about doing the highest possible at every possible moment, given the means we have and the constraints that we face.

Time-plans create the illusion of deadlines and an end-state. Agility has no end-state, but introduces a state of continuous improvement, a state in which each status quo is challenged, all the time.

Agility can’t be planned. Agility can’t be dictated. Agility is never ready.

This must be in the hearts and minds of every person guiding or driving a Scrum transformation. Because agility needs to settle in the hearts and minds of every person impacted by a Scrum transformation. And in general those people have been instructed the wrong behavior for 15 or 20 years. In general a plan will slow down the transformation process, as it just extends the old thinking. Living the art of the possible engages people and accelerates a transformation as it thrives upon the future. A bright future if you have the vision, the determination and the dedication. And if you have, I hope I can help you. And I will bring metrics, practices and tools that will light your path.