Are You Following “Upside-Down” Agile?

Upside-down agile.

Now that is an interesting statement. So, what do I mean by that? Well, let me explain it this way.

This is a term that I have coined from what I have experienced in my many years of being immersed in the Agile Arena!

Upside-Down Agile is “Failed Agile”!

Organizations in their attempt to say that they are on-board with this “buzz word”, do everything backwards. Or as I like to say “Upside-Down.”

So, lets start this way. First of all, what is the measurement for what is considered Successful Agile? Agile success is quite simply stated this way in the product development world.

“Success is when the product is delivered:

  • With high quality!
  • On time!
  • On budget!
  • Giving the customer exactly what they need at the time of delivery, far exceeding any of their expectations!”

And that refers to every product delivered. Jeff Sutherland the co-founder of Scrum titled one of his recent writing’s this way; “Twice The Work In Half The Time!” That is what we should be achieving with Scrum when the organization is truly “Agile.”

To do this there  are a number of criteria that must be met. And it is here where the majority of the organizations fail. Let’s talk about it!

In the many years that I have been immersed in the agile Arena, I have worked with many organizations and trained many professionals, numbering in the thousands. This takes place in the post-secondary area as well as in both private and public sector companies. Now here is what I have seen and heard.

When I ask organizations, or those who work within these organizations, if their companies are agile, many times, or I might say most times, I get an affirmative response. These individuals say “Yes” to the question “Is their organization is an agile organization.” We then begin a discussion as to what agile means in their organization. I cover this in-depth in my initial two courses on my Agile Mastery Academy in the courses titled, “What is Agile?”

When I ask this question, I get responses such as: ” Yes we are agile because we create products iteratively. And, we call these iterations sprints.  And we do these Sprints in two-week timeboxes”. Or, I might get a response such as: ” We do daily scrums. We meet every morning and at the same time in the same place and discuss our progress.” Or again, I get a response like this: “We collaborate daily with the business “. I could go on and on with these statements.

This is all well and good. However, these are techniques we use to achieve what we call a state of being “agile”, or as we like to say having “agility” within our organizations. I have emphasized this in other blog posts of mine. You see, just because we use agile techniques does not mean that we are agile. In most cases, when we are focusing on techniques, we are not agile.

For example. Many of the organizations that are working in 2 week or 3 week or whatever increments, are asked by me if they deliver working software every sprint. And I mean every sprint. In most cases, I get the answer, “No. We are working towards it but in most cases it is not considered working software at the sprint end.” Here is my response. I use a recent quote from Jeff Sutherland, the co-founder of Scrum. If anyone should know, it is Jeff Sutherland. Here is his quote,” Any Scrum without working product at the end of a sprint is a failed Scrum.” Succinctly and well put! And, if one wants to argue with Jeff, go ahead! But you will lose. And lose big!!

This way of using techniques and following rules comes from a fall back to our traditional way of doing things. In much of our product development arena, in the past, we have focussed on the process, or as we like to say, the methodology. The methodology is a prescriptive way of following a standard process for building a product. It is a way prescribed by the organization as to how to develop a product. It is standard and followed by all developers of the products being created in the organization. In the information technology arena, this might work for a few of the products that we build, but for the majority of products, it does not work.

I will not get into any more detail of this aspect here, because this is an entirely different topic. Also, I have posted on this before in my blog. This is a complex area and I have covered it in a “deep-dive” step-by-step review in my two “What Is Agile” courses that are available in my “Agile Mastery Academy”.

What I would like to point out here though is this: “because we use agile techniques, this does not mean we are agile.” And interestingly enough, I would estimate that of those organizations that I talk with individuals who are involved in them, as much as 70% of these organizations are not “Agile.”

To be truthful they are on a journey to get there, but as yet are not achieving the results of a truly agile process. They have not arrived at the destination. And, I emphasize this, even though they have achieved some success, they must continue on this journey, to reach their initial vision to be a truly successful agile organization. However, many stop here and never achieve the results, yet continue to say they are agile. Agile is not a set of steps. It is not a prescriptive defined process. It is not a  methodology.

Agile, plain and simple,  is a mindset! It is a way of thinking! It is a way of addressing issues and problems with a totally different mental perspective. It is a way that in the beginning “Hurts The Heads” of the management team. It is not an easy transition to make because we have become so entrenched in our old ways of doing things. We have become very comfortable! And Agile, it creates great discomfort.

It can be very disruptive and painful. Agile begins in the head period! This way of thinking must begin at the top of our organizations and flow down through the levels that we have. Or as I like to say, it must flow up from the bottom where the CEO should exist. Now that statement will cause much discomfort in the C-Suite because that is where the C-Suite needs to be located. This is what I cover in my first 2 installments of my new course to be released in the next few weeks on “What Is Agile Leadership.”

So when I say “upside-down agile”, what I am referring to are organizations that say they are agile because they are using some agile techniques like a prescriptive methodology and thinking they are without achieving the successes of agile! They do not understand agile. Yes, we have much in the way of knowledge of agile at the senior levels of our organizations. But knowledge does not equal understanding as has been proven in Neuroscience over and over again.

There are specific results that we look for when we run agile projects. There are specific criteria that we use to measure whether or not we are agile. I will cover those criteria in another post. But where I want to go with this post is here, organizations are only successful in agile if they have successful “agile leadership”. And that leadership is not the traditional management structures that we have. That leadership is agile leadership. And, this must begin at the top of our organizations.

Jeff Sutherland, the co-founder of the Agile Framework called Scrum, that so many organizations attempt to use, labels this type of leadership as “disruptive leadership.”

So the question to be asked here is this; “What do we mean by agile leadership?” The answer is given within my new set of courses that will be released within the next couple of weeks. The courses are titled simply; “What is agile leadership?”  I have spent thousands of hours researching and practicing this over the last 15 plus years. I  will give many examples of our current day organizational structures that are ” agile”, and they are agile because their leadership is agile.

So agile leadership, IT IS …….. stay tuned!

Remember “We are AGILE!”

Author: Ed Rubuliak


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