We Don't Need No (Agile) Education

As an Agile Trainer and Coach, I find an interesting paradox.  Most people will state that they already know all about Agile.  And if asked, most organizations will say that they are already using Agile, even if it is A.I.N.O. (Agile in Name Only). Or they will describe what they are doing as "agilish".  I am pretty sure that "agilish" in this context means that they aren't following Agile Values and Principles.  And in most cases, it also means they are doing pretty much what they were doing before agile but now they call them by agile sounding names.

This creates an interesting problem for me as an Agile Coach.  You say you already are using and know about Agile, right?  And you don't need or want any type of training, right?  Are you sure you are a good judge of your Agile knowledge?

People aren't great at evaluating themselves.  We all tend to overestimate ourselves and our talents, traits and abilities. We feel we are smarter than the average person, or more generous or whatever. The truth is that we don't see ourselves or others accurately.  This is a known type of cognitive bias called illusory superiority

So probing for Agile Training and Coaching needs can be tricky. Frequently, managers, leaders and executives of all stripes feel they already know enough to succeed with Agile.  This might be based on reading one article or hearing someone speak about it at a conference.

If an organization is using A.I.N.O. they might get ticked if you tell them they need training.  I've had internal agile champions tell me that their leaders believed that they have been practicing Agile for years.  They asked me not to mention the need for training because they had been telling their leaders that they had already been using agile methods.  So please don't mention the need for training.  Huh?  You mean you want me to lie about the current state just so someone doesn't get upset about the truth?

I've also run into client situations where team members were taught or told things about Scrum and Agile that were inaccurate.  What do I tell team members who have been taught to use "Sprint" to describe waterfall phases, as in the Analysis Sprint, the Development Sprint, and the Testing Sprint?  I have to do my best to not scream out:  "That crap you were doing before wasn't agile!"  Sometimes I am diplomatic and I tell them that they need to adopt a more disciplined form of Agile or Scrum.  

Unfortunately there is no standard assessment for measuring Agility (and if there were I'd be suspicious of it!).  So I find I that early on I need to spend a lot of time just asking questions and helping people understand where they are today.  I also try to cast a vision for what they might gain by making changes and improving their processes.  I talk about the benefits that they've hoped for that they aren't realizing.  Finally, I help them to think about experiments they might do to move them toward their goals.  

It all starts with a clear recognition of the starting point.  There is an old saying that the first step is admitting you have a problem.  Without a clear idea of where people are today, there is no way to successfully help them get somewhere else.  


About Anthony Mersino

Anthony is passionate about helping technology teams THRIVE and organizations TRANSFORM.  He loves partnering with organizations to help teams with Agile thinking and the Scrum Framework.  He teaches Agile and Scrum as well as the cultural elements that are necessary for an organization to gain true business agility. Anthony has  authored numerous articles and two books: Agile Project Management, and Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.