One of the more complex challenges that we face in transformations is where the Agile Lead of the client is not fluent in Agile. Since we need to work with the Agile Lead / COE Lead head-to-head, it’s a key position for us.
In a perfect scenario, the Agile Lead is a mature Agile practitioner, but sometimes we have people who have received the ownership of the Agile dimension of the transformation with no experience. So, how can we transform this into an opportunity? How can we overcome the sponsor’s dysfunctional choice?
Before we can answer that, we need to distinguish the Agile Lead that we have to work with: are they an Agile Discoverer or an Agile Strikebreaker?
Challenge: support them to gain experience swiftly
Opportunity: Sounding Board
Tactical actions: Focus on both certification and hands-on laboratories
Agile Discoverer is an archetype that we run once in a while. It’s a lead that the enterprise sponsor thinks has the knowledge of agile and they don’t, or the right attitude. Either way, they do not have the experience necessary to help in the transformation.
This is an excellent opportunity: we can help them both gain the experience in Agile and in a transformation at the same time. Another advantage that this kind of Agile Lead has is that, being part of the organization but being relatively new to Agile, he or she can be a great sounding board for the opinions of the rest of the organization.
What can we do to empower the Agile Discoverer?
- Pathfinding: We can create career paths and archetypes that map the ideal Scrum Master, ART, PO, etc. In that way, we can build up their general knowledge and also help them map certifications and courses.
- Roleplaying: By existing a large experience gap, we can help them as consultants by showing them an embodied Agile perspective that they can gradually step into.
- T3 (Train The Trainers): Being an Agile Lead, we probably expected them to coordinate and facilitate training. By focusing on a T3 approach, we can speed up their experience and quickly get to where we know if we’re going to need third-party facilitators.
The Agile Discoverer dysfunction is not a terrible situation; yes, it will probably require more work, but it is well worth it.
Challenge: attrition-based death of a company
Opportunity: Non-Violent Communication
Tactical actions: Reduce and contain damage while extracting yourself
An Agile Strikebreaker is a different dysfunction. This is not someone who has received a responsibility without having the means to uphold it. This is someone who is actively against Agile principles, and yet is theoretically their champion. Maybe there is a particular sponsor that wants the transformation poisoned and has prevailed to nominate them. Maybe they’ve lied about their qualifications or mindset and now it’s too late and they are the Agile COE Lead. But what it boils down is that they will undermine Agile principles and mindset while claiming to uphold them.
You can expect things like:
- Asking for a commited, multiepic release plan with fixed dates
- A focus on nonessential metrics
- Manipulation of indicators that show agile maturity
- Redefinition of roles and methodologies away from their accepted meaning to conform to a customized Agile which will tend to Waterfall
The result of this is not only complex for you; but for the company. Most Agile specialist are very in-demand. If you want to force them to work in a manner that is anti-ethical to their principles, they will leave en masse. This will soon reduce any profit that the company can generate and stall every single part of the transformation.
You also need to exercise great care in communication. Since the Agile Strikebreaker cannot let you advise to generate more agility, he or she will try to force and redefine every aspect of what you propose. From bitter experience, I know how difficult is to work with someone who lies through their teeth. A framework that allows you to remain professional and focused, like Non-Violent Communication, can be a great help.
Ultimately, what you can do with the Agile Strikebreaker boils down to the relationship that the sponsors have with you and with the Strikebreaker. If they are unaware that the situation is like this, there is a possibility that they are open to change. Here, clear reasoning and concepts are key; It should articulate the major thrust of the argument for a change in terms of the losses that the company will face if in the future, not only for the transformation but for any project undertaken under the guise of the “agility” which the Agile Strikebreaker espouses.
If the sponsor is aware of the situation, the best course of action is to limit the damage and slowly extricate yourself of the situation. It doesn’t matter why they poisoned the transformation. Perhaps it was an internal power struggle. Perhaps they signed and then they realized it was too much effort. The bottom line is that you are trying to swim with a heavy anchor attached to you. I have found that the best way to deal with these situations is to elegantly remove yourself from it.
Do you have other strategies to deal with Discoverers and Strikebreakers?
Please comment below, if you do!