Sliding Back down the Hill
By being satisfied with the mediocrity of "we suck less," organizations send a message to agile teams that there will be no further changes made to support them in their quest for high performance. This can be frustrating and demoralizing, leading teams to regress back to their old ways of doing things. Sometimes management even encourages this by doing what one of my clients calls "giving agile names to waterfall practices." This greases the path for that slide back down the hill, often all the way back to the waterfall at the bottom.
Other companies find themselves losing key people who would prefer to jump off and take their chances rather than go back to waterfall. Usually they disappear one at a time, leaving to join more agile companies or become independent contractors or consultants. But occasionally entire teams leave—and start their own company. It's almost as if the slide back down the hill spawns more wolves! It's fair to say that these companies are usually worse off than when they started their agile adoption because of the loss of productivity, momentum, competitive drive, and key players.
Pushing Forward over the Hill
Companies that see the benefits of full agile adoption and are willing to push past their fears can and do find ways to move forward and push themselves over the hill. These are organizations with strong leadership, a clear vision, and a willingness to embrace the values of agility and service. They do the hard work to change the culture and reorganize the company as needed to better serve the productivity needs of the teams doing the work. They have champions in place at high levels who lead by example and make the hard decisions that will forever change how their company delivers products and services.
Getting Blown off the Hill
Finally, those who do nothing, leaving the agile adoption process teetering on the edge between mediocrity and high performance, eventually find that the wolves will make the decision for them as they huff and puff and blow them right off that hill. These stagnating companies will struggle and may go out of business or perhaps be acquired for less than their perceived worth. They become irrelevant in a world that continually welcomes those who can offer new innovations.
We as a community need to point out the flawed thinking of this first little pig syndrome to those who are guilty of it. By doing this and understanding the inevitable high-centering event and the consequences of the actions taken once reaching that pinnacle, we can help organizations make better decisions about their agile adoption.