Tech Talk

Progressive agility - Moon shooting to “Ri”

by Sergio Pozzetti, Radically Digital

Whether you are working directly with agility or want to but feel lost in the hype, in this article we propose a fresh and optimistic perspective based on our approach. As agilists at Radically Digital, it is our responsibility to listen to our teams continuously in order to pave the way, as opposed to listening merely to what may have worked elsewhere and attempting to copy & paste without contributing at least a verse.

Progressive agility - Moon shooting to “Ri”

A frequent metaphor used in transformations involving agility is the “Shuhari” Japanese stages of learning to master an art form. Intrinsic to this martial arts principle is the progression from learning, breaking and up to transcending the rules. With that in mind, when one dives into today’s public opinion on the subject, pessimism and even an utter feeling of doom prevail. “Agile is dead”, “Why Agile failed” and other such destructive if self-important titles dominate, becoming pure click-bait for extremists on either side of the fence. What if, in the great scheme of things, most transformational attempts failed because they ended up being shy of mastering, or even learning the rules? What if blind compliance with a preconceived notion of progression was precisely the root cause for everything that goes wrong in these transformations? What if, for once, we should aim to fly without learning to crawl? At Radically Digital we are proposing a move towards enterprise agility over strict agile frameworks.

Just add milk and get ready for failure

It is no secret that the overinflated hype and promises attached to agility, its values and principles spawned a massive overmarketisation of frameworks, all claiming to be the Holy Grail of digital transformation. In this customer era, whether we are talking about design thinking, lean management, or delivery, one can easily find meticulously layered certifications and frameworks all claiming to be “Agile” in nature. An equally deceptive and overengineered phenomenon is happening in regard to scalable frameworks. All neatly packed into beautifully labeled cereal boxes, all proclaiming in the instructions section “if you use me correctly, magic will follow, just add milk”. Except all of them - and the more prescriptive the framework, the truer it becomes - was built on top of common denominators around success bias. If we push Scrum and it does not work, it is because we are doing it wrong. If we push SAFe and it does not work, it is because the organisation was not ready to scale agility yet. And so on and so forth. This is what we are led to believe. No middle ground, no grey areas. How come? Why should agility frameworks contradict a basic facet of human nature whereby rules which are blindly imposed end up being bent if not broken? You will notice I used the verb “push”, and this was by no means a naive choice. This is because grey areas are viewed as impure, polluted byproducts of failed attempts toward agility. If you are not doing it by the book, you are not doing it right and most likely you are not building agility into your teams but rather driving them away from it. This is the pretentious framing around all frameworks and this is why, ultimately, they will be “pushed” as solutions when in fact they should always, without exception, become guidelines or at most sources of inspiration to act based on a properly conducted diagnosis.

The cake is a lie

Embracing the idea of agility becoming organic and alive, bubbling with new concepts and practices thereby evolving its underlying machinery is quite challenging and exhilarating at the same time. Challenging, because, as previously mentioned, we should not follow recipes and expect to end up with a perfect cake, or even end up with a cake at all. But if relying on existing frameworks does not work, what does? Frameworks are not devoid of merit and albeit the thought processes behind them reeks of standardisation, they do contain interesting ideas and practices. Practices which, over time, were tested, inspected, and adapted based on evidence. This is one of the keys to start looking at agility differently: the ability to discern the smallest, easiest practice to test in a given situation. Occasionally you may end up with a macromolecule similar to a program board as prescribed by SAFe, other times you may need to ideate around a basic agility principle, such as self-organisation, and produce something new out of different atoms. A new ritual, a different way of communicating, a game everyone enjoys playing and boosts collaboration and communication. Exhilarating, because of the inherent creative process. Yes, you do need to know enough about existing frameworks and how concepts and practices interconnect to weave the ropes to know and prune the ropes to skip. But once that baggage of knowledge becomes second nature, being able to understand when and how to unlearn it is the second key to start looking at agility differently and creating something new as a result of all the different ways you will have found to empathise with the team.

What success looks like

It may sound commonplace, but there is no substitute for assessing a team’s success based on how productive they are, coupled with how positive they are. No one-dimensional approach will paint a rich enough picture suggesting possible points of improvement. A hyper-productive team who is also motivated, engaged, energised and happy most of the time will continue to shine irrespective of whether they are following a mixture of Kanbanesque Scrummy eXtreme Programming seasoned with surfboard size for estimation or no formal method at all, other than what works for them. On a similar note, c-level teams may find their balance in a cocktail of different practices. The road to get there, now, that is the fascinating bit. That is why we should be optimistic about the road toward agility: it is still very much under construction. As agilists, it is our responsibility to continue to listen to our teams in order to pave the way, as opposed to listening merely to what may have worked elsewhere and attempting to copy & paste without contributing at least a verse. Aiming towards “Ri”, that is, transcending the rules and therefore flying way above knowledge and mastery is the only way in which we can truly help. 

We see it happening on a daily basis, therefore do get in touch with us if you would like to know more. Ready to go on this ride?