When Do The Doers Start Doing?
Tired of sitting in meetings that seem to go nowhere, and seldom accomplish anything? Listening to people pontificate, based on conjecture, about what they believe the real threats and opportunities are. Perhaps you’re one of those people who spend all day, every day, discussing strategy. As both your time, and life, are slowly dissolved one tick-of-the-clock after another; does the following question ever enter your mind: when does the actual doing begin?
Agile is about rolling up your sleeves and getting to work. We do this in order to gain empirical evidence and validate or invalidate our market assumptions. We build something small, then test it in the hands of actual customers, to determine if we are on the right track or if our plan needs to change. Dwight Eisenhower once quipped, “planning is everything, the plan is nothing.” It is not the endless discussions about strategy in the vacuum of space that matter, but rather the act of planning in coevolution with the emergence of real data.
The question we need to answer – as fast as possible before we burn through our cash – is this: would customers actually buy our product? Is the product fit-for-use; meaning does it meet the necessary quality standards to function properly in the conditions it will be expected to operate in? Is the product fit-for-purpose; meaning does it solve the customer problem it was intended to solve? Is the solution valuable, meaning will customers pay money to have that problem solved for them?
Many organizations have previously used Waterfall to predict all three of these things in advance of a long build cycle, and subsequently failed. In contrast, Agile seeks to avoid too much prediction, and focuses instead on the doing. There should be a bias for action. Organizations that embrace Agile should be more concerned with adaptation, based on actual data, than subjective interpretation or pontification. The goal is not to have Nostradamus on every team, but rather to iterate quickly and receive fast feedback.
If your organization wants to become Agile, it must develop this bias for action. It must value empirical data. It must be willing to pivot when the data – and not some leader’s gut bacteria – tell them to do so. But here’s the kicker… it isn’t just about the people at the bottom of the hierarchy, who work in hands-on roles to deliver value to customers. It starts at the top. We must all be willing to roll up our sleeves and contribute, to become doers, rather than talk-a-neers. My advice, regardless of your role in the chain-of-command: try talking a little less, and doing a little more. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
We have Frederick Taylor to thank for the division of labor. It was, after all, Taylor who said: “There is no question that the cost of production is lowered by separating the work of planning and the brain work as much as possible from the manual labor.” While this may have been true in the industrial age, it certainly is not true in the information age and beyond, where we depend on knowledge workers to solve complex and unique challenges. Taylor’s proposed style of management – which came to be known as Scientific Management, or “Taylorism” – dominated the 20th century. And now, in the 21st century, it is what holds many organizations back.
Avoid analysis paralysis and big, up-front design. Develop a bias for action. Become the change you wish to see. Adapt based on what you learn. Experiment. Iterate rapidly, ever-evolving along the way. And if you are lucky enough to be a leader, show the way.