20 years later, Agile is still looking for itself

Live the experience of the agile tour 2019 in the eyes of Stéphane Chouinard, agile coach.

October 29, 2019. I almost forgot that I am attending the Agile Tour today. With the fall and the pace of work that goes with it, this day full of learning is just right. 😅

The prospect of learning, understanding or rediscovering motivates me and I take this day like a holiday that we have not seen coming on the calendar. I am very pleased by the prospect of also seeing former colleagues with whom I have had the greatest pleasure of collaborating.

I still don't know what the essence of Agility is

It is in the greatest chaos that I arrive at the scene of the first conference of the day. The room is noisy, half of the 1200 participants being more interested in the reunion than in the content of the conference.

Immediately, I understand why. On the theme of "The essentials of Agility?", We invite anyone to come and give their opinion on what they want. In fact, it's a little more complicated than that. The premise is the co-creation of a conference on a common subject.

Without doing the full detail of what we see there, here is a burst of what I observe from the back of the room:

People I don't know and whose background I have no idea
A kind of chair and musical microphone game
Someone who reads something too deep and poetic without understanding what they read (by their own admission)
"Related to what you just said ..." followed by something unrelated to what was just said ¯ \ (ツ) / ¯
A "shameless plug" from a conference (very good by the way) scheduled later on the schedule
An intern who has a lot of courage 👏 and who is looking for an internship
People who don't listen to each other and don't look at each other

Quick like that, you could say that I have easy judgment. 😈😈😈

But I would never allow myself to judge if I had not tried it myself.

Going on stage, I immediately understand that there is little hope that anything interesting will come out of the exercise. There are simply too many obstacles to overcome and no guide to help us.

Intimidating room, blinding lights, unpleasant feedback in the microphone (we hear ourselves speak with a delay), orientation of the chairs towards the public (little visual contact between the participants), the chairs invite a seated and not dynamic position, no facilitator , no common thread.

I have something interesting to say, I know that, but I cannot ignore the environment and the context.

Even leaving the stage is complicated since I'm not sure if we should say goodbye or anything.

In the end, someone new to the Agility world who saw this talk on "The Basics of Agility" is right to think that this is just about everything. 😅

Here is what I learned from it:

Self-organization requires basic elements to function
Even the best cannot perform if the environment is not favorable
Co-creation is not always a good idea
Agility is not a question of know-how
In the second hour, Mariana Velmas and Janaki St-Pierre tell us about their journey and the difficulties of being a woman in the Agile world. Unfortunately for them, I believe that even in 2019, it is still difficult to be a woman in a corporate environment, Agile or not.

During the hour, they give us an excellent testimony of their experience and remind us that we all suffer from anchors that push us to associate behaviors with specific sexes. I love the way they present themselves and that they ask us to "vote" with pink and blue cards.

Most of the conference reminds us of the importance of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. They even speak of "Agile know-how".

I think this is one of the most widely circulated misconceptions about Agile. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are not part of any manifesto value or principle. You can check for yourself: Agile manifesto

I can understand where this misconception comes from.

In English-language Agile literature, the opposition "Doing Agile vs. Being Agile" is often exposed. Being Agile, in this context, rather wants to express that we embody the values and principles of the manifesto. That our decisions, gestures, processes, rituals and practices are in accordance with these values and principles. Nothing to do with interpersonal skills, it is only a question of know-how and mental models.

I also believe that there is often too much emphasis on the value that is usually expressed first.

"Individuals and their interactions over processes and tools."

The individual.

His interpersonal skills, his emotional intelligence, his interpersonal skills, his competence, his knowledge, his expertise, his leadership. The romantic idea that we can cultivate the individual as a plant or a fruit, feed it, teach it and grow it to reach its full juicy and nourishing potential (yum).

There is a blind spot in all of this. This focus on the individual, anchored in the value # 1 of the manifesto, prevents us from realizing that this individual, as Agile, emotionally intelligent, full of self-awareness as he is, is nothing in a dysfunctional system and environment .

The examination of the system and its environment are removed from the discourse since they are automatically associated with the processes.

We even had a blatant example at the first conference. Very good individuals drowned in a dysfunctional environment.

And even later we will see: "structure dictates culture" and "our measures shape our culture" tells us Patricia Kong. "Individuals cannot self-manage without a system and processes that promote / value self-management" reminds us Mathieu Boisvert.

I also think that combining emotional intelligence and Agile can be dangerous and discriminating. What about employees who find it difficult to develop relationships despite themselves? Are people affected by ASD, ADHD, stuttering, condemned to be Agile dunces?

Finally a little focus on the results and less on the methods
This is what TicketMaster employees and especially Hugo Emond said to themselves two years ago. Like the giants Amazon, Google, Netflix and many others, they have been ordered to use OKRs (Objectives + Key Results) to propel them to new heights.

It is in this context that I participate in a workshop led by Hugo which simulates a multi-team business and it is the mission of my team to find objectives for each Key Results provided to us.

From the outset, in the discussion dynamic, we immediately see the gain from the Key Results. Alignment is immediate as long as the Key Results are clear. The only thing that gets in the way of the discussion a bit is the fact that we are swimming in the imaginary since it is a situation and not a real situation.

I immediately see the gain in using OKRs in a business or in an organizational transformation context.

What I learned:

KRs must be beyond the scope of a team or organizational unit
Objectives must be ambitious enough for it to be realistic to reach 50% of the target
OKR forces collaboration and discussion between teams

There are tons of good Agile metrics!

Éric Wursteisen and Jean-Romain Cordier try to mix things up a bit with regard to the famous “velocity” and agile measures. Through an ingenious presentation called “Top flight agility, watch the right indicators” which makes ingenious connections to aeronautics, they give us good ideas on the metrics we can monitor in an Agile world.

It was about time that I attended a presentation that tackles a little bit of misconceptions and takes a fresh look at the methods available to measure different aspects of an Agile team.

Like Eric and Jean-Romain, I am a little tired of hearing that starting an initiative in an Agile way is synonymous with carte blanche and blank checks. I'm glad to see that there are concrete ways to measure the health of a team or project.

I love the fact that they have no ideal dashboards and leave it up to us to determine what we need to measure.

Self-organization is good, but it has limits

Agile brings a lot of paradigm shift. One of the toughest things to swallow in a traditional governance structure is that of self-organization or self-management. Mathieu Boisvert came to explain to us what he draws from his experience with this principle in his conference "The good and the not so good of self-organization".

The main benefit of self-organization is obvious and it is through a very eloquent demonstration that Mathieu exposes him to the audience. The 500 people present must get up and stand in two lines sorted alphabetically by first name. After about 5 minutes, you get two very long lines placed approximately adequately.

Obviously, a similar result would be obtained in several tens of minutes if a coordinator had to indicate himself where each person should be placed.

The rest of the presentation is very interesting, but the impact of the initial exercise obscures everything else.

What I take away from it:

If you want speed, let people find the solutions for themselves
To get there, people need a clear goal and constraints
Without a facilitator, impossibleto self-organize effectively

20 years later, enterprise-wide Agile seems to be the topic of the day

The more the day progresses, the more my ideas crystallize around certain key points. Perhaps deep down the initial question for the day “The Essential of Agile?” Is answered in the very last lecture of the day. Who knows?

Patricia Kong of presents "Why On-Time, On-Budget, On-Scope Doesn’t Work". It is in the famous iron triangle, or rather in a desire to get rid of it, that Agile was born almost 20 years ago. This is where Patricia Kong brings us back, reminding us that it is what we measure that defines our culture.

And despite the 20 years that separate us from the initial writing of the manifesto, relatively few organizations have adjusted the way they measure success to align it with their culture. In fact, if I go even further, the very concept of "corporate culture" has appeared relatively recently on the radar. With the arrival of Millennials on the job market, companies now have the imperative to find their cultural identity and make it alive for employees.

Patricia Kong then brings us back to a concept that I find interesting, that of “evidence based management”. It is high time to pivot on the way we run businesses. It is true that what we can only improve what we measure, but it is also true that we are what we measure.

The 4 axes proposed by Patricia to obtain the necessary measures are “Unrealized Value, Current Value, Time to Market, and Ability to Innovate”. I don't want to dwell on each of them because from the start I wonder if these axes are universal.

I work for a consulting firm that provides professional services to its clients. Do I have a real “Time to Market” issue? I certainly have a "Current Value" and it is certain that I need to innovate in my practice. But I don't have a virtual product to which I want to add functionality. I don't have a horde of users who need me to reach the market quickly with innovations.

What would be the Agile manifesto for service delivery? For a human resources team? For a marketing team? For an advertising agency? My mind wanders from the subject presented. Maybe my brain needs a break.

Despite its interesting content, I did not feel the urgency to experiment or apply its principles in my environment in the same way that Doc Norton inspired me last year.

What I take away from it:

Our measures reflect our culture

I'm looking for my new moment aha!

I discovered Agile late, around 2010. When I opened the pandora box, it was as if the universe was structured perfectly in front of me. A moment of great revelation.

For several years I felt like I was out of the ordinary, going in the opposite direction from the "common sense" of those who apply "industry standards" in terms of practices and processes. I suddenly felt a breath of fresh air when I saw that I was not alone.

In 2012 when I happened to attend a presentation on Lean Kanban I again had the impression that the truth was before my eyes. A perfect alignment between the solution and my current problems.

Since then, I ask only to be amazed and shaken again but it seems to me that the Agile planet is looking for itself.

What is the link between OKRs, Devops, Management 3.0, SAFe, leadership, interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, Design Sprint, microservices, React, the growth strategy of a digital platform and the agility?

Maybe I should have attended the conferences to find out but seen from here, it's a bit like the first conference of the day; it pulls in all directions.

Come meet us for a virtual coffee.

Here is our agenda to find common availability: MAKE AN APPOINTMENT


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