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  • Writer's pictureRobert Weidner

Don't Get Caught Holding The Bag

The goal of Agile is really quite simple: to embrace change in pursuit of higher value. So how do we embrace change? That is also rather simple. To embrace change, we must lower the barriers to it. Therefore, we must make the cost of change low. How do you know if you’re succeeding at Agile? It should be relatively easy to change course, and the cost of doing so should be far less than the cost of not doing so.

Some scaling frameworks fail to reduce the cost of change. If you’re using one of these frameworks, you might be doing some Agile-like things, but you’re not really Agile. You’ve simply bought into the marketing hype. It’s okay, we’ve all been there. That only-sold-on-TV-for-a-limited-time towel that doesn’t really soak up an entire swimming pool worth of water. Or that too-good-to-be-true investment that turns out to be a pyramid scheme. It happens to the best of us. But sooner or later, we figure it out.

The simple truth is this: some Agile frameworks are more Agile than others.

Smart CEO’s are waking up to the fact that – when they bought SAFe – they were sold a bag of goods. The thing is, they were never buying SAFe… they were buying Agile. More than that… they were buying results. Agile merely served as the means, not the end. Then a wolf disguised as a salesman showed up and told them there was a cookie-cutter, fail-safe way to do this. They sold them on the idea of Agility. Only later did these CEOs realize they were left holding the bag… and what the bag was filled with.

Everyone seems to be looking for a pre-defined model they can implement that allows them to map current organizational structures directly into the new model. A few terminology changes, and viola… we’re Agile! Or rather, we think we’re Agile. But what have we really changed? Same hierarchy. Same program-based view of the world. Same quarterly planning cycles. Same functional silos. But wait, you exclaim... "Now we can see our dependencies!"

How many companies have tried to copy the Spotify model? It’s a funny thing: the only company who no longer seems to use the Spotify model, is Spotify. They said it worked for them during that particular place and time, based on the size of their organization, and where they were in their journey. They’ve since outgrown the model, and the ways in which they work continue to evolve with them.

There’s a reason the best companies in the world are the best, and I can tell you this: it’s not because they use SAFe (they don’t). So, what do they do?

After interviewing people from Google, Amazon, and elsewhere; I had the following key takeaways:

  1. They measure business outcomes, rather than what Eric Ries has called “vanity metrics”.

  2. They do not permit “scaling”.

  3. They do not mandate Agile, nor do they have to. Many of these companies don’t even use the word. It is a universally recognized best practice within these organizations. It is simply — as one person intoned to me — “the way software gets built”.

  4. The “business” and the “technology” are one and the same. They are product technology companies... not companies that have front-end business units supported by back-end IT.

The best companies figure out their own identity, their own path to agility. They don’t copy someone else. They cut their own trail, and the journey never ends.

Agile isn’t a destination, it’s a way of being. Some people and companies have it. Most do not. You can’t buy your way into it. But you can learn it. You just need a mentor who gets it. Not a vendor who converted their Program Management Office into an Agile Transformation Team when the market got hot, but someone who lives and breathes it. Not just the words, but what the words really mean. You need an authentic teacher, not a salesman. That is, if you truly want to become Agile, rather than an unemployed CEO holding a bag of poo. Granted, I’ve heard the severance packages can be decent.

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