WHEN does Agile succeed? – Scrum Masters can’t grow Agile gardens.

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What is Agile? (Pt 2) – If we focus on value, we can ditch the idea of timelines and roadmaps, right?

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It’s been about three months since I took it upon myself to tell a bunch of people to STOP using Agile Methodology.  Since then, we’ve spent a few thousand words talking through two of the four questions I labeled as critical prior to jumping into an Agile implementation.  If you’ve followed along on this journey, you (hopefully) have a better understanding of WHO Agile is for as well as WHAT Agile is.  Today, we’ll dive into the next question in the series:

When does Agile succeed?

Several years ago, my wife and I took up gardening.  Like anything I get into, within 3 days of discussing the idea I had read 30+ blogs, reviewed 10 scientific studies, and consulted every person I knew that had tried their hand at gardening.  My research (and limited backyard space) determined we should try something called Square Foot Gardening (SFG).  My wife agreed without much discussion, knowing that her only goal was to get some fresh vegetables.  She really couldn’t care less about my scientific studies…

In case you are unfamiliar with SFG, it’s basically an ultra space-efficient way to grow plants.  The concept is to create an ideal growing environment by controlling the soil nutrients, drainage, etc all to the purpose of growing a high-yield garden within a very limited space.

First the dirt!  Where do you buy it?  You can’t…  You have to MAKE it.  ⅓ peat, ⅓ vermiculite (had no idea what that was), and ⅓ blended compost.  They call this concoction “Mel’s Mix”.  No idea who Mel is, but she/he made me spend $100 for dirt.  Ouch.  Now we mix…

Next came laying out the plants.  Who knew you had to plant certain species of cucumbers in pairs?  Or that basil keeps bugs off of tomatoes and can even improve yield? Or that marigolds attract good bugs that kill bad bugs?  (Maybe you knew all of this.  I certainly did not.)


Oh right, Agile… Why am I rambling about dirt, basil and bad bugs?

Although it was a fairly cumbersome (cu-cumbersome?) process to get started, we’re now close to 10 years into this gardening thing, and let me tell you – our garden is impressive!  We put so little effort into it each year and yet it produces dozens of pounds of vegetables for our family every year.  So much so that we give a fair amount away!  It’s incredible how much difference it makes when your soil is fertile, the drainage is just right and you follow a few simple principles of proper planting.

Introducing Agile to an organization is just like this.

Sure, you can throw a handful of tomato seeds out in the backyard and maybe see a few of them sprout, but you’d be extremely lucky to ever get a single vegetable from them.  Throw a little loose dirt over them and the sapling plants may even last long enough to grow a few veggies, but you’ll never see the yield that my square-foot garden gets.

If you want an above-average yield, you need an above-average environment.

Just the same, you can show your team a few agile videos or even pay to send them to a two-day training, but this will never result in a successful Agile Transformation if you haven’t prepared the soil.  If you manage to see fruit, it won’t be enough to satisfy you.  First, cultivate the soil at the foundation of your organization.

What does this mean?  Your leadership has to be prepared to change.  Change the way they lead, change the way they ask for things and change the expectations on how their teams will deliver to them.  Project Managers have to be ready to shift their mindset on how it is that they add value to a team.  Personnel managers have to switch their focus away from making sure people are working hard to making sure they (themselves) are working hard to keep things from interrupting their team.  Both personnel and project managers must be ready to let things fail rather than trying to predict and prevent every hiccup.  They must let their teams take responsibility for their actions and self-organize on how they will prevent such issues in the future.  This list could go on and on.

The point is – You can’t jump into Agile by sprinkling in a few Agile seeds and sending in a team of Scrum Masters to water them.  

As the leader of your organization, the transformation has to start with you.  Unlike my garden which had to be prepared from the bottom up, an effective Agile Transformation must come from the top down.  Then and only then will you see the fruit of Agile.  Without the support and understanding of company leadership, your “Agile implementation” will be tinkering at best.  Well-educated leadership produces real Agile transformation.

–and real Agile transformation yields a lot of tomatoes…


Are you currently considering Agile?  Are you in the middle of a botched “implementation”?  Do you just want to talk about Agile?  Send us an email!  

We use Agile principles for all of our custom development work and would love to chat with you about it!

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