The Path to Agility

“Agile just isn’t working for my team,” Arno said. “My company decided to go Agile six months ago because we needed faster delivery, and now my team won’t even tell me when they’ll be done with the new application. They say they can’t because now they are ‘Agile’.” We could hear his air-quotes over the speaker phone connection.

As we listened to our friend Arno complain about his workplace, we looked at each other. We were mentally tallying all the misunderstandings about Agile that his comments reflected. There were so many, we wondered where to start in helping him get a better handle on his situation.

We decided that the first thing he and his organization needed was a way to determine what they really wanted from their change to Agile and what was possible. So we suggested he read and circulate an article, “Your Path Through Agile Fluency: A Brief Guide to Success with Agile,” written by FutureWorks partner Diana Larsen and our colleague James Shore, and published on Martin Fowler’s website. Easy to find at http://agilefluency.com .

We highlighted a particular section of the article:

“For Agile we’re considering team fluency rather than individual or organizational fluency...Team fluency depends on more than just the capability of individuals on the team. It also depends on management structures, relationships, organizational culture, and more.”

As the statistician George Box said, “...all models are wrong, but some are useful.” The “Path Though Agile Fluency” model has proved useful for many of our clients as a way to discriminate what benefits to expect from adopting an Agile approach for software teams and what investments the organization needs to anticipate. In the model, teams may gain fluency (skillful, routine, ease) in four different ways, each providing different returns on the investments.

The model also includes core and enabling metrics for diagnosing a team’s current fluency level.

A few weeks later, Arno reported the ideas from the Agile Fluency model had clarified many areas where his team was on track and others where he (and his organization) needed to make more targeted investments in supporting all teams’ efforts. Or they could choose to adjust their expectations for performance and value creation when they weren’t willing (or couldn’t) make the necessary investments.

We’ve had discussions with many leaders who can’t understand why the transition to Agile hasn’t gone more smoothly. Usually the causes lie outside the teams - a better understanding of those causes will help you get your Agile adoption back on track.

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