(Fr)agile Series: A revolution for evolution

(Fr)agile Series: A revolution for evolution

By Sammy Boukhris

Engagement Lead

If you’re still here, thank you for taking the time to read my rambles.  

I feel like we’re at a point where agile practitioners (acknowledging the hypocrisy of me calling us that after my rant about agile being a noun) must change our behaviors in order to regain the trust of our colleagues. Companies have invested millions, if not billions of dollars over the past 20 years getting teams to embrace agile project management practices. The frustrations towards these ‘agile transformations’ are at a fever pitch and companies are now divesting and deprioritizing the transformations. Personally, I’ve witnessed it twice (reach out if you want to hear more).  

If you believe that agile project management will work in a non-software development environment, you are right. I truly believe it works well for many high performing teams. But the transition doesn’t have to come from the oracle at the top of the mountain or mandated by leadership; it can and should come from within the teams. Someone on the team sparks a revolution for evolution by sharing a past success working in a team that utilizes agile project management.  

I encourage people to learn more about agile project management; take courses, get certified, learn the why behind the solutions out there. Take your learnings and build your playbook. Don’t follow the script that is given to you, become a coach that pulls plays from agile project management playbooks that will work for the right team at the right time.  

Start small, start slow.  

  1. Understand the problem(s).  

  1. Be a part of the process. Teach the team to play jazz, don’t act like a conductor for an orchestra.  

  1. Visualize the work.  

  1. Plan and prioritize the work.  

  1. Simplify, simplify and then simplify even more.  

  1. Seek feedback. Don’t just listen to what people are saying, try to hear what they are trying to say.  

  1. Lastly and most importantly; BE AGILE. Embrace the true definition of agile. 

I’ll end with a quick story. Years ago, I inherited a team that was bleeding out in terms of available capacity. The team lead of the group explained how much work they had and always felt like the team was in a reactive firefighting mode. Whichever client screamed loudest at any given moment was the one that got prioritized.  

I set a single goal for the team to visualize their work. That was it.  

We built out a Kanban Board and started the data entry process. It took months, not due to the complexity of the work, but because we needed to chase everything down. Data was all over the place. We discussed and debated the process that they followed, visualized it on the board and “pushed it to production.”  

The next day, the team lead called me completely in a panic. Literally crying. She told me that there was no way they would complete all this work, that it was too much to handle. She felt that overnight her team had been assigned all the work that was on the board. I simply replied with “what has changed since yesterday?” After some silence, she said “I can see the work.” There it was. The work was always there, looming the shadows; we only brought the work into the light. Once we were able to visualize the work, we were able to systematically work through the backlog with predictability. We could start to tell clients when their work would be completed (it often wasn’t what the client wanted to hear, but at least they had timelines). We slowly started adopting more agile project management ceremonies, meetings and behaviors. We found the underlying patterns that became reflex and the team became an unstoppable force.  

They changed. Now you go change.