Why 'Being Agile' Scares People

Anthony Mersino
January 31, 2017

I work with a lot of teams and help them to adopt Agile thinking and methods.  While I am pretty passionate about Agile and many of the team members are as well, I work with many team members who are afraid of Agile.  Why would people fear Agile if it is such a great thing?  Perhaps it isn't viewed as such a great thing by everyone.  Here are some reasons why they might fear agile and 'being Agile'. 

#1 Change of Any Type is Difficult

Many of us like to think we embrace change.  The fact is, change is difficult for all of us.  In his 2005 book Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, Alan Deutschman describes a study in which 90% of the heart transplant patients who were faced with lifestyle change or certain death chose death rather than change.  We even suck at small changes such as keeping our New Year's resolutions.  Barely half of us sustain our resolutions beyond the month of January!   

And with Agile, the people who are pushing the change are generally not the ones who are most impacted by it!  They are trying to get others to change and adopt a new way of working. (This includes coaches like myself!) 

#2 Agile Is Used as a Weapon

Some people feel that Agile is used against them.  They believe it is really just a way for organizations to get more work out of their employees.  There are several discussions on line on the topic of Weaponizing Agile;  using Agile Methods to actually abuse rather than empower employees. 

It can happen that managers preach about the importance of Agile but pick and choose which parts they like and apply.  Or they talk a good game about empowerment and then undermine team self-organization.  If managers are not changing the culture and team members aren't really empowered, then you are not becoming more agile.  

#3 - Agile is a Little Too Transparent

A key aspect of agile practices is transparency. Transparency can be a little hard for team members, especially at first.  Agile teams put it all out there.  There work for the sprint is clearly identified on the task board.  Every day they get up in front of their team and share what they are working on and their progress (or lack of progress).  Everything is out in the open.

Some team members like this.  They tell me it is great to see what their team members are working on; to work together as a team.  Others don't like it so much. 

Managers usually love the idea of transparency - for their employees.  When it comes to transparency at the management level, there is often some pushback.  They tell me "we can't let our people know about that".  Why not?  Will people freak out?  Maybe we don't think of our employees as adults. 

#4 - I am No Longer Special

What about team members with unique abilities?  I know I freak people out when I talk about T-Shaped skillsets.  Some people feel that they have unique talents and wouldn't want to "waste" their time testing, for example.  If I am the only person who understands a legacy application, they value me (or they cannot afford to let me go).  I am the "key person" on the team.  And if I am the key person who knows how to configure Charles River, I have marketability and don't want to learn other skills.  The spotlight is on me.

Generally with Agile, we strive to reduce bottlenecks caused by unique skillsets on the team.  We encourage cross-training to eliminate key person dependencies.  We reduce "specialness".

I remember a particular developer in an organization who had a good reputation as a developer.  He declined the opportunity to join a Scrum team because he felt he was better than everyone else and didn't want to be on a team with those he viewed beneath him.  He was an eagle that didn't want to be stuck with the turkeys. 

#5 - Seen This Movie Before

Some employees have been around long enough to know that with Agile "this too shall pass".  They don't believe that managers will follow through on the change, so they don't get too excited about it.  

Managers get excited about the latest bright shiny object - whether it is implementing or decommissioning the PMO, training on lean 6 sigma and getting your greenbelt, or implementing test automation or Dev Ops.  Cynical employees know that most managers have short spans of attention and will eventually lose interest in a long-term change initiative like an Agile transformation.  The tyranny of the urgent will dominate and sap the will to change. 

What do you think - why do you think employees might fear Agile?

Anthony

 

By Anthony Mersino | Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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.

Comments

Excellent summation of the main issues impeding the Agile mindset for both organizations and individuals. I have experienced each one of these reasons. In my opinion, the primary cause centers on a suspicious and sometimes poisonous atmosphere in organizations before Agile is introduced. Lack of communication, non-transparency, selfishness, promotion of the individual, and elevation of specialization as a value, all need to be addressed if Agile is to stand a chance.