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I failed again – I talked about why agile but they wanted “how to Scrum”

I was invited to share my knowledge on agile to the management team today in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG). I thought it is about how an organization responds to change and wanted to understand what agile means. I tried to go a little deeper to help everyone understand: –

What is agile – I asked everyone what agile means to them. They responded very well by saying “being flexible”, “respond faster”, “move quickly” and “adapt to change” etc.

This gave me confidence about moving towards organisation agility. Meanwhile, I asked them where did they hear all these terms?  It helped me to point them towards “Manifesto of Agile Software Development” and highlighted that all these keywords are beautifully written inside the manifesto.

Since participants were from non-IT and my understanding was that they wanted to understand where and how it is applicable beyond software development, I skipped principles of agile software development. Nevertheless, I focused on organization agility including supply chain, marketing, production, sales, vendor management and many other functions within the organisational structure.

Next part – Why Agile

Why Agile

I asked why agile is needed within your organization and there was absolute silence. This was the first sign, however, I ignored and continued asking similar questions based on my assumptions. My questions were:

  • How much time do you take to launch a new product?
  • How and when do you come to know that the product is not working?
  • How do you respond in case of failure?
  • What takes more time?

Participants became defensive and started looking at each other rather than exploring reasons. This was the 2 nd sign for me that I was not moving in the right direction and things were becoming uncomfortable. Somehow, I ignored this sign too.

What happened next was not something I wanted but happened

Going forward, one of the executives came forward and shared with the crowd how exactly scrum works. She kept talking about scrum events/ceremonies and how it helps in coming up with new initiatives (mostly software examples). Everyone liked it and I was crying inside that whatever they are appreciating is not the goal, instead, the way to do it. There was no problem statement and just a framework. I felt bad and wanted to stop but could not. I wanted them to think deeper before jumping on any framework but everybody was already there and I was late.

Closing was worst

The same executive said a few things that were an eye-opener for me. I realized how dangerous agile can be. She said to be agile and not do agile but again she said agile doesn’t fit everywhere. She was clearly referring scrum doesn’t fit everywhere but said agile. I was clueless about how to respond and was afraid as well in interrupting her as everyone was enjoying her talk.

In the end, she showed Stacey chart and pointed the same way that I have seen in the presentation. Agile doesn’t apply in a simple or complicated zone but more for the complex zone. She didn’t mention anything about Stacey either and ended up with squad, tribe and chapters.

My learning

Agile methodology

Next time if anyone calls me to share what is agile, I feel it’s better to check what’s their intention? Is someone going to use me as put forward own agenda? Do participants have any reason to look for agile or just wanted to understand what it is? Or how well they know about agile and Scrum? Are they referring that Scrum = agile?

If it is about exploring, better to share one of the approaches to be agile rather getting into why agile and what agile means. Don’t touch topic such as organisation agility or business agility unless asked for.

How will you respond if you are stuck in my situation and are not sure what participants are looking for? Feel free to write me on naveen@agilemania.com.

Author's Bio

Naveen is a Lean-Agile Coach, Professional Scrum Trainer (PST) and Internationally acclaimed Speaker in many Conferences and Agile events. He has over 22 years of experience in multiple domains and he is a Certified LeSS Practitioner (Large-Scale Scrum) and one of the early adopters of DevOps practices and teaches DevOps culture around the Globe.

1 Comment

  • Armando
    Posted May 14, 2020 9:33 am

    I prefer the prescriptive vs empirical discussion. Analogous to planning a trip to a destination we are familiar with, but never visited. Prescriptively, we think it wise to pre plan the entire journey, including way points for re fueling, rest, etc. (serial thinking). But using problem solving and intuition, we simply solve our journey logistics empirically. We focus of skills, resources and outcomes to respond to situations.

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