Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Already and The Not Yet

In 1944, the US Coast Guard Cutter Eastwind, an icebreaker ship patrolling Greenland, discovered the German naval transport ship Externsteine trapped in ice. The German ship, transporting a crew and supplies for a weather station, surrendered without a fight. The German ship was rechristened the USS Eastbreeze and set sail to take this prize to Boston.

Now, the ship was under American control, flying an American flag and under the command of an American captain and some of the crew from Eastwind, but the German crew was still there, as well, a crew that for years had been under the authority and training of the German regime. Although the previous crew formally acknowledged the new authority of the Americans, it took time for individuals and groups to accept it. Perhaps there were excuses for why certain duties took so long, or to delay the trip or not keep things in good running order. It's easy to imagine how it would take even longer for the crew to act according to the rules of the captain, even when the captain would never know. Even longer to know the captain personally, such as why he did things differently and to even come to value those same things that made the captain who he was and why he ran the ship the way he did. 

The ship did eventually make it to Boston. Though it took longer than it would have with a solely American crew on a ship they already knew well, what arrived in Boston was not only the ship full of cargo, but a ship potentially full of people who understood, could believe in and perhaps even supporting the Allied cause.

Agile is full of promise and possibility. Agile is fraught with challenges and open space. There is so much to be gained at all levels of the organization when adopting agile, but there is no way to predict what specific challenges each person, or team or department will encounter. There's common problems, of course, but I've found many more uncommon problems. And there is no simpleton set of rules or turnkey solution for success that comprehensively predicted those issues. In the same way we explain why predicting a detailed plan for creating products does not work well, so to with expecting a detailed plan for going agile, a plan that takes away all fear, uncertainty, and risk. Your approach to adopting agile should also be iterative - team by team, evaluating results and planning next steps.

You have everything you need to succeed, you don't have what you need for your next step forward. Whatever information and resources that are necessary for you, your team and your organization to have a successful agile adoption are out there. What you need to do to bring the next right thing to bear for you, your team and your organization will always be the next thing to. The "already and not yet" of agile. 

With the new captain on board, the ship was now American, but at the same time, it was also not yet American. In deciding to adopt agile, your company is agile, but also not yet agile. The mission for each of us, within our role and authority (and perhaps more importantly, our sphere of influence) is to bring those aspects of what is true about agile into our projects and teams and organizations. 

Begin with you. Make sure that you are bringing agile into yourself. Do you value others? Do you value interactions, moving towards face-to-face meetings and away from email?  Be the change you want to see. If you want those around you to be willing to learn about agile, go learn about agile at your local user group, the next conference (or one of the other 31 things you can do today to be more agile). If you want them to be learning from each other, share what you're learning with others - start a weekly brown-bag book club, and quotes to your email, go have lunch with the other ScrumMasters or agilists in your company.

Know that it will take time. In the U.S. culture, we often want instant gratification, can be impatient, and easily forget previous progress. One of the most successful large agile adoptions I've recently heard of has been 22 months in the making. Another large company has several full time agile coaches helping  their adoption for over a year. Accept that it will take time, and help educate and set the expectations for others. That way, when issues arise (and they surely will) you've prepared decision makers to respond according to truth and reality rather than react emotionally.

It's all about the people. In the end, much of agile adoption is about culture change. Change is hard, and culture can be deeply rooted. Given that the agile manifesto points to valuing individuals and interactions over processes and tools, we should always be aware that the focus of our time and energy, as well as key to addressing problems and issues, will be people over modifying the agile process or details of a roll-out plan. The most successful adoptions and problem solving have come when I've made a point to spend one-on-one time with the right people. The "right" people might be the most influential, or most vocal, or most frustrated. 

Be willing to invest in a journey that, although not the most shortest, will bring about the most change - genuine, enduring change.

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