Sept. 3, 2013

The Dark Champions of Agile: Hark… Who goes there?

Finally the Agile Knight can identify the Dark Champions against change and defeat them

Click here to read “Part 1: Know Thy Enemy”, which identifies the resistors to change and how to defeat them and “Part 2: Gathering Allies for Change” which explains how to show leadership through action.

In part one of The Dark Champions of Agile we discussed the struggles of an agile transition and the forces and people, who will align against you to protect their status quo. The Dark Champion of Mediocrity and the Baron are personas we discussed with strategies on turning resistance into momentum. Part two discussed more personas and some perspectives on turning enemies into friends and ambassadors of agile. The values of Respect and Transparency dictate this proclamation; portions of this list were developed at the Coaches Retreat in Boulder, CO, Dec 2011, kudos to all whom contributed.


How to defeat the Dark Champions in your agile battles…

Anchor/Foot dragger:  This persona is openly resistant and will not accept change, even if you showed him the invention of fire, the wheel or sliced bread.  The Anchor professes allegiance to the old ways and will not accept agile.  This persona is usually banished with logic and results, the small wins you create in your agile transition.  The data and metrics collected to validate improvement to the team or product decreases the power associated with the Anchor’s voice.  Results win in any arena, so create your performance metrics to show that teams cannot afford, or tolerate, decreased work efforts.  Over time, the team will decide how best to onboard or drop the Anchor; inclusion is always preferred.  If the agile coach needs to intercede,  it is to facilitate a discussion between the Anchor and management on where best the Anchor can serve the organization.

Beware the Foot dragger, twisted cousin of the Anchor.  Foot dragger will use an ‘easy going’ attitude,  to hiding in plain sight.  Do not be fooled by the complacency that hides beneath the surface.  The Foot dragger does not impede progress but does not advance it, adding inertia to the system.  This persona is easily defeated by employing coordination tactics; have the Foot dragger run the next retrospective or lead a backlog grooming session.  Action defeats complacency.

Saboteur:  The Saboteur loves agile in public and loathes it in private.  It will conspire with others to resist agile in secret, opposite the Anchor.  It operates with non-value adding activities such as committing to work items and not finishing, derailing meetings with useless questions, hijacking demos with needless commentary.  The Saboteur is best dealt with in a two prong approach.  A particular behavior such as being late to every meeting is discussed in a one on one session.  Once the behavior is shown again, you can address the Saboteur with a “Sir, we previously discussed this issue…”. Now the power of the team can be brought to bear on the Saboteur.  Two such outings will reveal a pattern of behavior which the team will be more adept in finding sooner, as the team progresses.  Challenge the Saboteur to show deep knowledge of agile, by asking for book reviews, blog post updates, new ideas from the web, chapter reviews from books owned by the team.  Failure to produce knowledge for the team will not go unnoticed.

Dead Fish:  Go with the flow, don’t rock the boat, don’t whine, just do whatever, apathy…
The Dead Fish can be tricky if dealing with cultural diversity, gender or seniority.  My usual approach to the Dead Fish is to reinforce the authority of the agile transition.  This reassertion of management’s desire to work in a different methodology, will give you the perceived authority when establishing working agreements with this persona.  Dead Fish are first offered the gift of inclusion, ‘Please be one of us, join the team, be open minded’. If this persuasion is ineffective, then the message of discipline is delivered, “If you will not join us, do not resist or sabotage our efforts. Follow the team, the process and do as instructed.”  Although this is not the preferred way, it’s a way forward.  This tactic will help the Dead Fish participate while keeping a safe buffer between themselves and fully committing to the change.  They are usually converted over time, with some successes and hard fought changes.

Dead Fish and Foot dragger are almost the same, I see indifference in the Dead Fish and a half hearted commitment in the Foot dragger.  Perhaps its just nuance, opinion, word smithing or splitting hairs, but I see two personas.

Diva/rock star:  This persona is very prevalent, equivalent to the architect in the ‘ivory tower’ lording over us mere mortals.  The Diva has the technical expertise or seniority to hold sway over those in the lower courts, but you must not give way…You have been hired by his boss, so this conversation becomes
very focused.  I invite the Diva to meet with their manager and between the three of us, we come up with a plan to include/exclude the Diva.  When confronted with a manager or an Agile Champion farther up the food chain, the Diva is repelled but not defeated.  Beware the morphing into the Foot Dragger or Saboteur.  The more subtle approach to including/defeating the Diva is to schedule open debate sessions where attendance is optional and team issues can be discussed.  I propose a different forum than the retro, which has a higher purpose.  These battle sessions are perfect for giving the Diva the room to voice opinions, and for you to establish/demystify fact from fiction and handle/corral/gently instruct the Diva into what are the agile principles and who really holds authority in that arena.  A small, gentle display of authority, enough to show the other team members that a Diva can be managed, respectfully. Inclusion in decisions is the way to win over anyone, even those whom fight inclusion will break under team pressure to contribute.

Church Mouse:  The quiet, intelligent, introvert whom does not seem engaged.  This persona is perplexing but can be drawn out into a contributing member of a team.  The Church Mouse must be approached directly, usually with a buffering team member along for the conversation.  Space and respect are given in abundance and under no circumstance are you to interrupt when they speak.  Constant support is given in team discussions, even when disagreeing perspectives are presented.  Extroverts on the team are approached individually before meetings and silent signals are established for when discussions go long.  The usual exertion of force, see Diva, cannot be used.  One method to use is the cover of Critical Mass.  This technique involves gathering the team members that see the value in agile and have them proactively include the Church Mouse in pairing activities, demo prep activities, keeping the project board tidy and updated, lead a daily standup for the more adventurous.  The inclusion by the crowd, instead of the coach, provides the message of “It’s ok to change. Contribute to the conversation and help us grow”. 

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Manny Segarra

I am a helpful teacher with a warrior spirit...I am devoted to the Scrum Values and coach teams to ground their thinking and practices in these values... Forever learning and passionate about the people which trust me to guide them in the direction of kaizen and being better teammates...
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Image of mannysegarra

Manny Segarra

I am a helpful teacher with a warrior spirit...I am devoted to the Scrum Values and coach teams to ground their thinking and practices in these values... Forever learning and passionate about the people which trust me to guide them in the direction of kaizen and being better teammates...

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