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Monday, May 16, 2011

You cannot transition to Agile. Stop and just embrace it!



I am writing this blog post to explore a concept. So bear with me, I'll probably ask more questions than I'll answer.

Why do most Agile fail in our companies (or government organizations for that matter)? My view is that we cannot actually transition from a command and control management paradigm to Agile / Complex management paradigm. The reasons are not fully clear to me, but I believe that it has something to do with the fact that we actually (typically) try to use a pre-determined way to make those transitions happen.

Case in point: When we try to move from Waterfall software development to Agile software development, we will typically draw a plan up for the transition with "steps" or "phases". Those "phases" or "steps" will typically be "stable points" in the evolution of our system (the company or organization). However, the Agile / Complex management paradigm assumes, at its core that software work is complex, therefore there is no predictable causality. The consequence of this is that the "steps" or "phases" in between the command and control paradigm and the Agile paradigm cannot themselves be "stable" in the sense that predictability can be recognized.

By following the argument above I'd state that: transitions fail because we try to move from a command and control paradigm to an Agile / Complex paradigm by applying command and control models. It is impossible to 'move orderly to a complex environment'.

What does it mean in practice for us? Well, for starters we cannot "plan" the transition in the same way we tried to plan our waterfall projects in the past. We can, and should have a goal or an idea of where we want to be. But after that we must embrace the new paradigm, or "Adopt the new Philosophy" as Deming put it. There are no intermediate steps between the "old command and control mindset" and the new "complex / agile mindset".

As this is an idea I'm still developing, I'll probably return to this subject and write some more, but in the meanwhile: what do you think? Does this make sense? What did you get from the above?

Photo credit: Marc Soller @ flickr

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4 Comments:

  • Maybe another difficulty is that Agile is exactly what you imply - a state of mind or a culture, per Philippe Kruchten's article. You can't just embrace it if you don't get it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at May 17, 2011 2:01 PM  

  • @Anonymous
    Quite correct. If you don't get it, how can you "do it"?
    In fact, my view is that Agile requires a completely different view of the world, and you cannot transition "world-views". It is quite binary: either we have that world-view and because of that do things differently. Or we don't have that world-view, in which case we can't really behave differently.

    Hence my statement that you can't "transition to" Agile. Once you get it you start doing it, it's like the Matrix :) We have to learn to see it.

    By Blogger Vasco Duarte, at May 17, 2011 5:39 PM  

  • It makes perfectly sense!
    To me transitioning to agile is like swimming, that many young children learn by simply jumping n the water. The only question remains "Who is on the side of the pool to save you if you do not make it?"
    I do share this opinion, that agile is not something to transition towards. First of all because the transition part will mess up your thoughts and ideas if you linger too long in the process, and you will lose valuable resources that do not like transitioning and are ready for the off/on switch.
    Do you follow this model ?
    Why don't we just switch to agile and make it in small steps or stages?

    By OpenID lucianadrian, at November 01, 2011 2:59 PM  

  • I do follow the model of "jump into the water". However, we are not alone and many times the organizations where we are just don't want to do it.
    But there's nothing preventing a single team (or a couple of teams) to jump into agile.
    There's one team at my current place that after just 6 hours of working with them started doing Agile and following many of the practices from XP + Scrum. That then caused a change in how the product manager works with them.
    This is an example of how "jumping into the Agile mode" actually helped also other parts of the organization jump to!

    By Blogger Vasco Duarte, at November 03, 2011 3:08 PM  

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