One of the precepts of Agile Project Management is the concept of delivery through disciplined, self-organized, cross-functional teams. Somehow, “self-organized” has changed to “self-managed” in some organizations. I have often used the following analogy: If I decided to purchase and operate a restaurant, I would fund the purchase, perform the marketing research, and then decide on the atmosphere and style. I would then carefully educate the kitchen staff on what we are going to accomplish and proceed to let them decide on how they are going to go about delivering that menu. One thing that I did not say is that I would essentially let the kitchen staff “wag the dog” by dictating the hours of operation, the decor, or even perhaps the size of the menu. However, if I am a smart business owner, I would certainly seek and heavily consider their suggestions and do my best to gain their buy-in to my vision.

Now, this scenario would be easier if I started from scratch and brought in a new staff. Let’s say that I purchased a restaurant and all of its assets, including the staff. Then I went about all of the activities I mentioned above. Unfortunately, the odds are that I’m going to have some staff members that perhaps are not as talented as people thought, or we might find a person or two who do not carry the same level of work ethic. Which means, that I need to make some changes. The sooner we can find these weaknesses, the sooner I can make these changes.

Now let’s go back to Agile: we need to remember that transitioning to Agile Methodologies is in fact an paradigm shift in the corporate culture (that’s, right…the entire corporate culture). Which means that besides providing for, instituting, and supporting the technical aspects of Agile Development[1]; and besides providing great agile leadership, the business needs to look holistically at the fit and feel of the staff, and be prepared to replace those weaknesses with stronger assets.

Now, don’t exaggerate my comments here. I am not saying that everyone needs to clean house; I merely stating that every business should want the all-star team. Think about the changes to hiring practices. We should always be hiring for fit as well as hiring for skill. This also means the aligning all the internal organizations (Marketing, IT, Sales, Professional Services, etc.) to culturally fit is crucial to meeting your business objectives, and therefore, to your success.

[1] More powerful language such as Python, Ruby, etc.; More flexible architecture; Acceptance Tests, Test Driven Development, Unit Tests, Refactoring, Source Control, Knowledge sharing, coding standards, collective ownership, continuous integration, et.

Join the Discussion

    • Mike Mc

      Well said, Katia. An Agile transformation brings these things out into the open and forces us to make the hard decisions.

    • Mike Edwards

      I agree with the notion of a transformation will result in people no longer fitting. I see it as natural and when handled effectively … people leaving will not have a negative impact on those remaining. As leaders we NEED to be honest and open about this side-effect of transformations. However, your post seems to imply the only option is to ‘be prepared to replace them’ (ie. cut them loose … fire them … etc). Not sure if it’s really what you meant but the words seem to imply it. I’ve seen this done and it left everyone else demoralized. In fact, when I’ve seen this done I believe it was one of the catalysts to the failure of the transformation effort.

      The other option is to let the people work through it themselves, then provide them honest and open support while they transition to something different. That requires a need for leaders to step up and coach their people in taking responsibility for their own careers. It’s a shame it’s so taboo to talk about how you’re no longer a fit for an organization. I said it once to a past boss as a cultural experiment. The reaction was one of shock, horror and denial that I would think that. The reaction should have been one of exploration, understanding coaching.

    • Koen van der Pasch

      I do fully agree with the piece and Mike’s statement. The big challenge, however, is the fact that in most cases, the people that fit LEAST are the top management.

      Agile software development, in most companies, is a middle-tier party. It’s usually initiated either by development teams themselves or by “project management”. Top management is generally quite clueless. And more importantly: Top management does not want Agile software development because it makes them lose their sense of control and their possibility to blame others.
      In companies like that, it’s generally a career-limiting-move to suggest a cleanup of people that just can’t hack it in Agile.

      And so Agile stays confined to the Software Development process until Agile Coaches learn to coach the entire organisation and indeed, as Mike says, lets the entire organization find out what Agile can do for them.

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