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Monday, November 27, 2017

A very merry unplan to me!

As an Agile Coach I need to help my client understand that planning a transformation is not productive use of time so we can collaborate, experiment, inspect and adapt to achieve a successful transformation.

Generally, I am hired to come in and coach delivery teams in how to be Agile so they can deliver things faster and hopefully with better quality. This is actually what the leaders who bring me in say to me. The problem with this approach of course if that Agile is not and never has been about delivering faster. Quality has always been a focus however, so they're only half confused.

If you are applying lean concepts and eliminating waste (not doing things that don't provide value) as well as incorporating other concepts like self-organizing, cross-functional teams; short iterations; and collaborating with the customer to ensure you're on the right path, then it may feel like you're delivering faster. But the reality is, if it takes 6 weeks to code and test a feature it will always take 6 weeks to code and test that feature. It's just that we all know we're doing the right thing because we got the necessary feedback; and hopefully we're delivering it in small increments if possible to continue that feedback loop.

But if other units or groups in your organization are bottlenecks delaying or obstructing the flow of something necessary to those teams, then it doesn't matter how good the plan is or how Agile we're being; we won't achieve the outcome we're looking for in the time our customer needs it.

Although the concept of holistic Agile has been tickling the edges of my consciousness for some time, it's only within the last six months that I started committing time and brain space to figure out what that actually looks like--researching who is doing it and how they made the case. How did they "sell" that to companies and leaders who believe Agile is only for their IT and software development teams? How did they convince those leaders that they might need to change what they do or how they do it in their HR and Finance and Sales and Marketing groups? Were they just lucky?

It's not easy to map this out into a plan, especially with some of the organizations I've worked with in the last 6-8 years. They're really big ships that are actively moving forward with years of momentum pushing them along, and pockets of resistance that are hard to engage since they believe it's all about delivery teams and/or they're 'busy and don't have time.'

But the plan to transform only delivery teams is flawed because it gives us the illusion that this is what will happen, but doesn't take into account what happens when someone quits because they got a bad review even though their team delivered consistently and delighted the customer every time. Why did they get a bad review you ask? Well because outdated business practices say managers can't give everyone glowing reviews; someone has to have a lower ranking or "needs to improve."

The plan doesn't take into account what happens when we can't fill open positions because the HR process takes six months to find the skilled person we need, or Accounting balks at paying more than they believe is warranted or is "industry standard" for the title.

Even a coach can plan how to implement Agile practices and concepts for a client and find on day one or two that the plan is already off track for many reasons--including those mentioned above.

We want our plans to tell us how we will do something and how long it will take but without knowledge of all people and events beforehand (or a crystal ball) that's just not possible. So we start with what we know and continue from there experimenting and reviewing the empirical evidence. At least that's the hope.

This has worked to a certain degree with most of the transformations I've worked on, but the next thing I hear from my clients is how do we measure where we are and/or how well we're doing? Which is a whole other post, and right now I'm pretty consumed with trying to create a plan that isn't a plan but will satisfy the needs of my client today. It's a little Alice Through the Looking Glass; I need to create an unplan.

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