Why Agile is So Hard

The building we work in has shared bathrooms that are locked.  We used to have 2 keys to the men’s washroom hanging on push-pins next to the door so we don’t have to cut a key for every person in the office or for guests.  Recently some ladies joined our company so naturally we had a copy of the women’s washroom created.  3 keys, 2 hooks.  Sounds like a problem.

Well, one key has a really big-ass keychain and people would put 2 keys on one push-pin and more often than not while putting the key back or taking it off, they other key on the same pushpin would fall off.  Being the nerd I am, I watched this behaviour for a few days.  Sometimes a key would fall on the floor, sometimes not however status quo was very much apparent.  It’s just a key after all, no big deal just bending down to pick it up if it falls.

I decided to introduce a system change.  I added another push-pin.  3 keys, 3 hooks.  A funny thing happened.  Most people still put 2 keys on one hook and didn’t use the new hook that is pretty obvious to spot.  I decided to experiment further.  I’d always put the 3rd key on the 3rd hook and check and see how often the keys ended up being doubled-up on one hook.  Most people still doubled-up keys.

What’s the point of this nonsense?  People are generally happy with the status quo.   As I’m typing this, someone came back and doubled-up the keys.  He fumbled with it, but it didn’t fall on the floor.  Going back to the premise of why Agile is so hard, if this simple of a system change doesn’t change behaviour, can you really expect your organization is going to leap at the opportunity and embrace the disruption to the status quo?

This leads me to another test.  What’ll happen if I remove 2 hooks leaving only 1?  What happens if I remove all hooks and leave the keys on the floor?  Perhaps my sensitivity is getting the best of me, however it’s little cues and behaviour that can speak volumes about your organizations culture.  What’s going to happen when you introduce a new process that makes employees feel less safe?  What’s going to happen when Agile processes expose problems in your organization?  What’s going to happen when you attempt to adopt a particular Agile practice that requires more complex behaviour change?