Several weeks ago I had a conversation with a new friend that works for one of the top five largest companies in the St. Louis Area. He was expressing some growing frustrations with his job. Several minutes into a rant about disjointed processes he said, “and we’re implementing this AWFUL thing called ‘Agile’. Have you heard of it?” I smiled and nodded as a gesture to tell me more. (At this point he had no idea the can of worms he had opened.)
He proceeded to tell me about several exhausting days of Agile training performed by a group of “Agile Professionals” that knew absolutely nothing about what he or his team did day to day. He explained that his job was to write very in-depth technical documentation and diagrams then package these up into PDF booklets. But now, after spending a few days hearing about this delivery model, which was CLEARLY designed for SOFTWARE, his whole department was to switch and write/deliver these documents “Agile-y”. He sarcastically talked about “D-Day”, the day in which all was to switch to “Agile” and yet not a soul in the group understood what that meant for them.
There is more to this story and more I could tell like it, but I want to transition to the main point behind sharing such a story.
I believe it’s quite clear this conversation was not a recount of a successful Agile Transformation or even the start of one. I also think most of us would agree, that from the outside looking in (albeit through a very small window) that somewhere along the line, someone likely failed to pause and ask some very important precursor questions like those referenced in my previous post. The question that stands out in my mind is “Is Agile for us?” We’ll address this question more broadly.
Is Agile for everyone? Absolutely not. One size fits all is a lie. Now, is Agile for you? Excellent question. I hope that by the end of this post, you’ll be closer to that answer.
First of all, Agile thrives in uncertainty (especially when compared to alternative project management methodologies). Does that mean it will make all your unknowns known? Clearly not, but it will set up your process so that rarely fails (ultimately) due to a surprise. Why? Because it anticipates the change.
But what if you are building the 25th identical home in a large housing development that mirrors 6 other housing developments that your company has erected in the past year? If so, then I’d hope you have a fair amount of your surprises worked out (maybe with the very abnormal exception of recent Covid impacts). You probably have a pretty good idea of the materials to order, the teams you’ll need, and the order of priority to deploy them to efficiently construct this home and the 200 after. You might even have the entire process documented somewhere and rarely deviate from that plan. You don’t need Agile for this. In fact, if you try to iterate your way into production you’ll likely have some upset buyers living in version 1.1 of their brand new home without flooring or air conditioning while promising to release those features “next Sprint”. For such repetitive and predictable projects, choose a more linear project management approach, such as Waterfall.
Let’s contrast this scenario with the group in 1953 at the budding Rocket Chemical Company that set out to invent a line of rust-prevention solvents for the aerospace industry. The team didn’t know how to accomplish this, but they knew what success should look like. They went to work mixing chemicals in batches and testing them. They came up with a formula, and it failed. The fifth one also failed– and the 10th, 20th, and 30th. All failed. On the 40th try– it finally worked! It displaced water just like they needed it to in order to accomplish their goals.
They named it WD-40.
WD-40’s brand is now worth over $2.5B. Imagine for a second if they had built their entire company – packaging (which wasn’t originally an aerosol), production lines, names (WD-1?), and marketing campaigns around their first attempt. How much money would they have wasted? How many customers would they have burned due to false promises, missed deadlines, and an overall ineffective product line? I have to think rusty airplane or rocket parts would have caused a few press issues, too. No amount of planning would have changed this.
Innovation benefits from iteration.
If the simplest path of your idea/goal was the successful one, other people likely would have done it by now. Plan to fail– and then adjust. Repeat until you succeed. This is Agile.
If the path to your goals is expected to be predictable and fairly repetitive, I can’t guarantee you’ll benefit from Agile. If, however, you know you have unknowns or you find yourself relating to the line “I’ll never know less about this goal than I know right now.”, then Agile may very well be for you.
Was this helpful? Can you relate? Maybe you disagree? I’d love to chat with you.
At Happen Technologies, Agile is a fundamental part of our daily lives. We would welcome the opportunity to help make it a part of yours as well.