“Eat shit. Ten billion flies cant be wrong.”
I came across this quote in the book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” from Stanford professor Robert Sutton and it made me think of the way a some organizations approach Agile these days. They seem to mindlessly imitate their competitors or industry leaders. Yes, Agile frameworks and methodologies are the defacto way of working in the software industry. But don’t do Agile because everyone else is doing it. And what does that even mean?
Copying practices will only get you so far. That’s why companies like Toyota, Spotify and Coolblue invite people to visit their workplaces, without being afraid they are giving away their secrets, their competitive edge. They know it is not about the specific practices. These change over the course of time anyway. They know it is their culture, the environment they created, their smell of the place. And though you can feel these, it is intangible, you are not able to copy and paste it to your organization. It needs to be grown, and will develop, evolve and adapt. Introducing an Agile way of working and applying basic practices like the roles, events and artifacts of Scrum can be a start of a cultural shift. But only that, a start. After introducing these the journey has just started and your organization has to do the hard work of learning what it needs to change to really become a nimble vessel. Alas, a lot of organizations stop with the mechanical aspect of Scrum, and become a place of Zombie Scrum.
Back to the point: don’t mindlessly imitate everyone else. Don’t do it at the organizational level, don’t do it at team level and don’t do it at the individual level. Do something different. As Seth Godin says in his book ‘Linchpin‘, you will not become indispensable because you are different, but you will never become indispensable without being different. This goes for organizations, teams and individuals alike. Trying something different is risky and takes courage, I understand. But there’s nothing wrong with failing, as long as you learn.
Let’s look at the story of Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx undergarment, now a multi-billion dollar company. When she was young, her father would ask her what she had failed at today. And when there was a day she had, he would congratulate her! She dared to try something new, got out of her comfort zone and learned something. I find the courage to risk failure lacking in many an organization.
Whenever I am helping an organization in its adoption of an Agile way of working, I question the status quo, and ask people to think about the routines and rules that are in place for years most of the time. I challenge them to try something different when they conclude something is not valuable to do. And sure, that’s easy for me to say, but it is not as difficult as many think too. I also question the need for an Agile way of working though! If they can’t articulate that, it makes no sense helping them apply something they don’t know why they’re doing. Question everything ;).
Change agents specifically, internal to the organization and external, I address and urge you: do the right thing. Don’t be tempted to roll-out Agile practices, without conveying the principles behind them. Be able to explain why we do certain practices and rituals. That reason can never be: because everybody else does it. Stand up!
To speak in Godin’s words: consider yourself pushed :).