What problem are you trying to solve?

“We want agile.”

Have you started a conversation that way?

The thing is, you likely need to back up a couple of steps and consider what the problem is that you are trying to solve. There is a good chance that if you try to apply agile to an unstated or misunderstood problem then you will not achieve the results you were looking for.

Introducing agile to an organization is a change management project. Plain and simple. The challenge is rarely the understanding of agile principles and practices, the challenge is accepting them into your culture.

Understanding the problem that you are trying to solve is the first step in preparing your organization for change. In the book Leading Change, John Kotter goes further and says that step one of a change program is to create a sense of urgency around the problem. Creating a sense of urgency prepares the organization for the change and helps to draw the people out of their comfort zone to engage in the change program. Kotter has reported that well over 50% of organizational change programs fail when step one is not duly considered.

When I started as an agile coach I did not appreciate the importance of understanding the problem. I believed I understood what the problems were and that agile would be just the thing to help. The challenge was that, right or wrong, it did not matter because the organization had not bought into understanding their problems. If the management team doesn’t agree on the problems then you can talk agile all you want - it won’t go far.

So, what is the problem that you are trying to solve? Is it to:

  • Improve quality?
  • Reduce support load?
  • Improve customer satisfaction?
  • Improve employee morale?
  • Create schedule predictability?

Start talking about the problem, keep talking, create some urgency, and only then agile consider how agile can possibly help.

One more thing, don’t try and fix everything at once. Pick one thing and start improving. The journey may surprise you!

As Dr. Suess said:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

What have you experienced when the organization does not have a level of urgency around the problem?

Photo by Felix Burton (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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