Another Agile Transformation

My previous assignment was with a large retailer out of the northeast. I was there for three years. The last year and a half I worked with a team of external Agile Transformation Coaches. I was a duck in water. By the time I left I was perceived as one of the coaches. I am a teacher at heart so the role of a coach is one I dearly love.

One year ago I started work in a large very highly structured organization. The company is extremely well known so I’m going to avoid too many hints. There’s really nothing bad to say anyway. The company has a very well developed waterfall methodology which is highly detailed and easy to follow. The processes and procedures manuals are hundreds and hundreds of pages. Usually, new contractors take several weeks to become effective. They provided very organized onboarding and my workspace was ready to go when I arrived. I’ve been working as a contractor/consultant for years.

The early lessons are these:
• Get a Badge, fast
• Find out where to park, get food, go to the restroom. Do this fast, day one
• Find out where the information is located, read, study, read
• Meet and network with your immediate managers and expected co-workers.

By the middle of the second week, I was asking for work. None of the projects have been difficult mostly because I’m over experienced and over-educated. I like knowing what I’m doing, so this is not a complaint.

As I have trouble keeping my thoughts to myself it became generally known that I knew a bit about Agile. It was probably the PMI-ACP certification and my recent agile transformation experience that tipped off my teammates. A couple of months ago I was asked to assist in introducing agile. My last experience was with a chaos environment. This experience is with a highly structured environment. What exists in this organization gets the job done. As is typical in such mature organizations the processes have resulted in slowness and expense. Additionally, work has become about fulfilling the process rather than about adding value. Further, this business pressure is pushing toward Agile.

Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  1. People. I love the Manifest values in sentence form. People achieve Results through Collaborating Responsively. Process and Tools are things, inanimate and dead. Only when a person picks one up and does something with that process or tool does entropy decrease and work get done.
  2. Patience is a virtue. Agile and patience are a bit oxymoronic, but there you go. Any transformation requires patient foresight and dogged determination.
  3. Fetal steps are required. Baby steps are too big.  Big ships must be moved by little rudders. Those little rudders/changes are hard to figure out.
  4. Watch out for landmines. No one knows all of the players, their specific opinions, or fears. Too often you are not aware with whom you are speaking. Navigating carefully is mandatory.
  5. Educate, Educate, Educate. Fears are diminished with knowledge, Acceptance is kindled by knowledge.
  6. If you’re the expert, 1 through 5 goes double for you.

This effort has just barely begun. There is a great deal of interest on the ground and enough in management to move forward. It will take months to start and years to complete, if ever. Being agile is not a destination, it’s a journey that leads to a different mindset.


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