Turns out being Agile IS all About Culture

I attended a great session on Agile vs Traditional last night with the Toronto Agile group and while there weren’t many traditional folks there, the session helped validate much of what I believe is the most important aspects of ‘becoming agile’.
The panel included Mishkin Bertieg, Scott Ambler, Colin Doyle, Orhan Kalayci and Winifred Menezes and you can see details and bios of these folks here.  Although the even was supposed to be a shootout between traditional vs agile methods, the discussions were skewed towards agile approaches.  Each panelist had the opportunity to comment or answer a question about traditional vs agile approaches in these categories:

  1. Agile Evaluation: What do you expect to see when you first visit an agile organization?
  2. Project size: Which approach works best based on the size of the project?
  3. Estimating and Planning: Which approach is more accurate?
  4. Requirements Management: Which approach is more effective?
  5. IT Governance: which approach addresses this better?
  6. Distributed Development: Which approach makes this easier?

Obviously the panelists’ opinions were skewed towards Agile having the ability to approach these more efficiently, but the key message overall was that even with using an Agile approach, culture, learning and constant improvement are the corner-stones to succeed with Agile.  To be successful in the areas being discussed, focus on building trust, relationships and make a commitment to improve.  They all really drove this point home in each topic.

Regardless of discipline, framework or methodology being used, it was pretty clear that corporate culture was the key.  There must be a mutual respect across the organization and within  teams and there must be a commitment to learning and constant improvement for Agile to really work.

I’ve always had the opinion that using Scrum, XP, Lean, Kanban or whatever you want to use is irrelevant if the culture doesn’t buy into the concept of what it really means to be Agile.  I’ve read many articles where people debate the use of Scrum vs Lean and nitpick about stuff that doesn’t matter such as “well, you can’t be Lean and use Scrum, they are 2 different approaches with different attributes.”

Who cares?

Yes, that’s right, who cares?

Being Agile is all about finding a better way to work and move forward as one team or organization, not worrying about whether or not you’ve followed the Scrum checklist (not that there is one, but we all know people love lists that tell them what to do).  This isn’t some hokey notion or religious argument, it’s common sense.  Give people the opportunity and trust them to do the right thing, and more often than not, they will.  Succeed as a team, fail as a team…but LEARN from the failure and move on.

This has been quoted many times by Agilistas, my apologies for not knowing the source to credit them, but the saying goes “It’s not my problem, the hole is in their side of the boat” This is the type of thinking that must change in order to be successful with Agile.

Now the challenge becomes, how do you help people adopt Agile culture?  Let me know what you think or drop me a line with how you’ve approached changing culture when adopting Agile.

Oh, and look for a follow-up on extremely short sprints for small teams, we learned quite a bit but I’ve been a bit swamped lately to follow-up.