Back to Basics: Use the Heart of Agile to Frame Your Agile Adoption

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Summary:
Somewhere along the way, agile implementations have gotten overblown and unwieldy. Managers and leaders look at all the models and frameworks and think agile adoption is too confusing or not worth the effort. To communicate what agile truly means, we have to simplify the message by getting to the heart of agile: collaborate, deliver, reflect, and improve.

As an agile coach, I help establish the framework and services to create a more unifying and consistent approach to agile adoption. Agile is about freeing up systems in order to respond to change in our dynamic, complex world, and the movement has been growing organically for years, gaining traction and interest at all levels.

But in some traditional holdouts, the idea of transitioning to agile has become a divergent and confusing undertaking. I’ve even heard some managers, executives, and C-level members say they “don't want to hear about agile again”—which, given the complexity of the environment they operate in, is very concerning.

Rather than repeating our objectives, this should be a call to action for us to revisit how we describe adopting agility. A message is not effective unless it is understood, and evidently, the agile message is not being understood.

Explain What Agile Really Means

Practitioners who are actually creating the product and getting stuff done in teams understand what agile is about. They are close to the work and are describing how they want to work. Many of our business friends, and more senior folk who have moved from doing to directing, are overwhelmed or have become uncertain due to the plethora of frameworks and models being introduced. We need to engage the managers.

A single business sponsor who wants a change and is funding it might have to deal with multiple agile delivery models in the company: SAFe, Scrum, kanban, etc. The intersections of these various approaches and the breakup of work can create issues in completing delivery. This manifests in misaligned cadences affecting timelines, missed dependencies causing rework and delay, and an inability to create single missions for teams to align to.

And often there are multiple agile consultants being engaged, each bringing or establishing its own agile playbook for implementation, to add to the noise. Even though they declare that they believe in the people element of agile, with self-organizing teams and an empowered culture, they are trying to control how the adoption process happens.

We do not want to stop people from hypothesizing, experimenting, testing, or learning. Yet at this scale, the divergence of practices and forms creates a problem for the management team. When executives hear alternative messages, they think the transition to agile is full of misdirection, waste, and overhead and view it as unproductive.

How do we create a common, clear, effective message to anchor teams and gain support, without crushing the green shoots of revolution that we want and need to foster?

The Heart of Agile

Alistair Cockburn, one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto, realized that some agile implementations were getting overblown and too unwieldy. He created a model to encourage everyone to get back to what agile is about at its most basic, and he called it the heart of agile.

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