Joshua Jack serves as Director, National Agile Practice at MATRIX. He is a Certified Scrum Master and Certified Scrum Professional.
Relief for Agile Growing Pains: Lessons Learned
I think it takes a somewhat unique [read: crazy] mind to be an Agile Coach. As Agile Coaches, we deal with challenging situations and have to use both old and new techniques and concepts in order to enable organizations to succeed. Because of this, everything – every movie, book, song, cultural experience - in life becomes an example or analogy that we can use to strengthen and reinforce these concepts. So you might be amazed at what pops into the heads of Agile Coaches, or in this case, mine.
As I was pondering how to recap my recent seminar on the topic “Relief for Agile Growing Pains,” I had a tune pop into my head. It was from the children’s show “Veggie Tales.” At the end of the show, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato look to their desktop computer friend “QWERTY” to provide the Lesson of the Day. You know what that means – you guys are getting a QWERTY-esque blog!
Lesson of the Day #1: Reframing growing pains helps us focus on the right fixes
“If a problem can't be solved within the frame it was conceived, the solution lies in reframing the problem.” ― Brian McGreevy, Author
If you were to ask the attendees of our seminar whether we walked through in-depth solutions for each of the four main growing pains that we covered, I expect you would get mixed answers. Yes, we answered with concepts like cross-pollination in order to bring consistency to agile adoptions or slicing organizations properly to create agile pilots; but we mainly tried to reframe the more fundamental questions. For example, instead of simply stating that there is a true definition of the perfect agile methodology (when responding to the pain point about “What does Agile look like”), we presented an idea that each agile adoption varies depending on what benefits and patterns from the Agile Principles are focused on; that organizations should use a contrast model instead of a compare model when assessing teams. For another pain point regarding Agile metrics, we introduced the concept of asking what business and leadership wanted to know and answering with increments of done measurement rather than just falling into a traditional way of reporting. You see, it is important to get organizations to engage in critical thought and negotiation. This is Agile “thought;” this is reframing the growing pains.
Lesson of the Day #2: Growing Pains are good – they help us focus on points on what needs to be improved
“Change comes with pain... But this pain later becomes a gain.” ― Israelmore Ayivor, Leadership Coach
It is a difficult sell - telling people that pain is good. Whether it is with our health or in the case of organizational change, the concept of pain is generally seen as a negative. In the seminar, we discussed how each organization’s agile journey is similar to the journey that we take as human beings. We talked about how new agile adopters are like newborns where every situation is brand new and exciting all the way to the professional who is high-performing, secure, and changes to make incremental efficiency improvements. But, at each stage and in every “growth spurt” there is some pain that needs to be overcome. Recently, my 11-year-old son was complaining of his legs hurting. Knowing it was growing pains and that the changes needed were that of nutrition adjustment didn’t lessen the impact, however, it focused where we needed to spend time and change what we were doing in order to alleviate the pain and grow. What we identified for organizations is the same: when a pain point shows up such as not being able to convince certain teams or groups within an organization to adopt agile, it helps us to dig into the growing pain and find the root. For this example specifically, it could be that transparency would create too much scrutiny or business sees it as just another fad that IT is undertaking. Whatever the pain, dig into the cause and find the necessary remedy to bring relief.
Lesson of the Day #3: Reach out to an Agile Coach – we are here to help
“The only mistake you can make is not asking for help.” – Sandeep Jauhar, Medical Doctor
Finally, this might seem like a shameless plug, but it really isn’t! Having the background I do, I have watched many people struggle with physical, emotional, and mental issues. Most of the success stories have one common thread – they reached out to someone for help. Whether it was to a doctor or a counselor, in order to fix a problem (or pain point) there is sometimes the need to seek out people who have encountered the issue before and get their advice. Many agile coaches rely on the years of experience in different agile roles to bring solutions; some even have backgrounds outside of agile or software development that lend to dealing with the organizational, sociological, and team dynamics challenges that can inhibit growth. What I would recommend, though, is do not expect an instantaneous change. While some small pains can be fixed quickly, those that are challenging require patience, multiple approaches, and an ability to dig into an issue while still fostering positive relationships. In other words, sometimes you simply need a professional.
What it comes down to is that this agile journey is challenging. We are all going to face bumps in the road and growing pains. The upside is that these situations do not have to destroy us! They can be the building blocks that both our current teams and future teams can build on in order to grow up and become successful. If you are experiencing growing pains, consider it an honor. Because you are a pioneer for your organization; a strong forerunner that is able to patiently learn from the pains, not let them stop you! And remember, “Being patient is never easy, but the reward is worth the wait!”
Contact us to further discuss how a MATRIX Agile coach can benefit your organization.