Over the last couple of months, I have been collecting stories from Agile development teams and management looking for trends in how well that partnership is working. With every story entered into Agile Alliance's Narrative Project, we seem to hit the same not so magic number--60% say that partnership is not really working very well. It can be seen in story titles like, "No trust from the middle," "Nobody on the same page," "Waterfall in agile clothing," and "Old mindset trumps agile benefits" dominating the headlines. All of these stories point out very clear pockets of concern that really block our ability to do Agile well.
The first major area the stories call out is a lack of clear goals around projects. Not long back Google released a report about what makes effective teams, and their findings concluded that clear goals help the teams to be focused and effective in their delivery performance. This is sort of like saying that we found out that humans live longer with water as a part of their daily diet. Yeah, we knew this.
Now I don't mean to degrade Google's work here. The more high-profile companies that reach this level of awareness the better. But the Agile mindset and methods focus a lot on setting meaningful goals. So why isn't the leadership of Agile teams good with goal setting? Well, mainly because the Agile mindset and methods is having a hard time working its way up the hierarchy of most organizations. As one of the Narrative Project stories calls out: "Agile is what other people do."
Having been in senior leadership for 15+ years, I would have to agree with this person's assessment of this very bad anti-pattern to business agility--leaders don't spend enough time learning new ways of leading. In fact, now that I am a consultant I hear all the time: "Could you teach that day-long leadership class in 2 hours? That's all the time we can dedicate to that." What these leaders don't understand is that they are wasting far more time in the form of loss of productivity due to product requirements thrash and other waste due to not having clear goals. My recommendation is for leaders to spend the time and learn along with their teams on how to make this better. It will go a long way to improve every aspect of your company's delivery performance and customer satisfaction.
Along with this, managers and leaders need to shift leadership styles to a more synergistic way of working. We have far too many stories about people being managed from a style that centers more on creating obligation to a goal vs making it meaningful so that people's own motivation and excitement fuels the accomplishment. Here again, spending a few days learning this will go a long way to dampen this impediment.
The other impediments detected by the Agile Narrative Project stories I will talk about in a future blog post; huge one one around work environments and the other on people being ignored/burned-out by poor Agile adoptions. In the mean time, please submit your stories to the Agile Narrative Project and help us to build a better way of work. Also, please join me at Agile2017 in Orlando. We will be working on addressing aspects of this problem at the Business Agility Lab.