Q&A with Learning Consortium on Scaling Agile
It's been a great pleasure to meet with members of the Scrum Alliance Learning Consortium and to have them as guests during our company-wide Coach Camp in Ann Arbor, Michigan last August. The rationale for their presence has been explained by Andrea Acheson, Managing Director of agile42 in North America: "visiting the other Learning Consortium sites I had a big question about how to explain agile42 company culture to other members of SALC and we thought the best way was to invite them to our annual company coach camp". The same feeling by agile42 CEO Marion Eickmann: "At the beginning I was sceptical because this occasion is very important for us but I think we found a really nice format to show how agile42 works and at the same time involve our guests."
Not merely "watchers", they took part in some of our usual activities and especially in the "Enterprise" track of discussion slots during the Camp. This is not a surprise since growing Agile beyond the one team (or "scaling Agile") is an area of interest for Scrum Alliance and Consortium members and also one of agile42 areas of expertise, as seen from our Enterprise Transition Framework™ and our Agile at Scale training initiative.
At the end of our Coach Camp track we shared opinions, with Steve Denning commenting that workplaces (even software giants like Microsoft) are very different from what they were at the end of the 20th century: "they are all on a journey, it's now impossible to go back." Echoed by Eickmann: "They thought Agile was a passing thing, but in the end it's all about people and people cannot be satisfied with just the money they earn, they also need quality in their work life."
Again Denning set the tone of the debate: "These 5-year old general discussions about Agile are virtually over, now the question is how we scale Agile and in doing so we are actually talking about company strategy and then vision beyond Agile" while Atresh Krishnappa, director at Brillio, added that companies need to focus on the long term picture, and Richard Sheridan, founder of Menlo Innovations and author of the book Joy, Inc., stressed that "it's time that the business community takes advantage of what we've been building for the last 10-15 years." Or, as said by Denning: "We are inventing the future and the challenge is communicating properly the results we got".
Andrea Tomasini of agile42 explained the company approach: "we believe that Agile is more than practices and tools, we don't market ourselves as business consultants but we have tools like the Agile Strategy Map™ and the ETF that support a company strategy and help validate experiments to identify critical success factors. The hard part of scaling Agile is scaling the culture, to create transformations that are long-lasting."
Most of the discussion revolved around the hot topic in the Agile community, scaling Agile. However as Eickmann said: "Scaling is the wrong word, I prefer growing instead.” There is consensus that the community needs to talk more about growing rather than scaling, the biggest challenge is witnessing success in a team then the same recipe is copied blindly in another team or department with predictable poor results. Hence the cries that Agile doesn’t work or (more recently) that Agile doesn’t scale. The mindset adopted by big organizations often is not apt for Agile, and more deep changes will be needed, “maybe we need another generation”. Sheridan added that "when they come and see at Menlo, they say 'this cannot scale in my big org' and I reply 'how do your processes scale?'".
As Tomasini put it: "The moment you standardize it, you kill it, you kill the emergent nature and adaptations that make Agile what it is. We have actively guided and supported very large Agile transformations and the most difficult issue we met is that in the two years needed for the transformation, many companies changed up to three different CEOs that didn't know the existing situation and wanted to implement their own specific vision." Eickmann also explained that when agile42 approaches a company, first their environment is put under heavy scrutiny in order to understand the better approach to change which is supportive of the existing culture, without bringing a ready-made blueprint good for everyone. “If you go in and change role names only you change nothing." Summarised by Michael Pacanowsky from Westminster College: “It's somehow wrong that 'culture eats strategy for lunch' because they need to work together, and culture provides the context.”