Mon Dec 04 2023
As an Agile Coach, I find an interesting paradox. While most people want my help to implement Agile, they also don’t want to invest in Agile Training. It seems that most people feel like they already know all about Agile and Scrum.
And if asked, most organizations will say that they are already using Agile, even if what they are doing 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.
The bottom line is that many people feel they don’t need to invest in Agile Training and they want to avoid the cost of agile training. This creates an interesting problem for me as an Agile Coach. You say you already are using and know about Agile, right? And you say that you don’t want to spend money on training for Agile or Scrum, 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.
Is it possible they learned everything they needed to know about Agile from that Forbes magazine article or from hearing a colleague speak about it at a conference?
Organizations that are using A.I.N.O. can get ticked off if you tell them they need Agile or Scrum training. People can get in trouble!
At a recent client, the internal agile champion recognized that they needed Agile and Scrum Training. But she asked me not to tell the leadership team because they believed that they have been practicing Agile for years! In other words, they didn’t want to be truthful about the actual state of agility.
Huh? You mean you want me to lie about the current state just so someone doesn’t get upset about the truth? Is that Agile?
I’ve also run into client situations where team members were taught or told things about Scrum and Agile that were inaccurate. What should I tell your 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 are doing is not agile!” Sometimes I am diplomatic and I tell them that they need to adopt a more disciplined form of Agile or Scrum. That is where agile and Scrum training really helps shine a light on improper use of agile which might be counter-productive or produce lackluster results.
Organizations will also do things that run directly counter to the Agile Principles. I see helicopter managers who are micromanaging team members when they profess to have empowered teams who are self-organizing. I also observe organizations who have centralized testing and so the development team hands off their work at the end of the sprint to the testing team.
Unfortunately, there is no standard assessment for measuring Agility (and if there were I’d be suspicious of it!). So I find that early on I need to spend a lot of time just asking questions and helping people understand where they are today, and where they might be if they invested in proper Agile training.
I try to cast a vision for what they might gain by learning and improving their processes. I talk about the benefits that they’ve hoped for that they aren’t realizing. Here are some typical talking points:
I often start with a discussion of the benefits that people are currently seeing from using Agile and Scrum. Sometimes, organizations incur the costs of Agile and get none of the benefits. That is an easy quick win – stop misusing Agile and Scrum and getting none of the benefits. By continuing to use old patterns and simply adding a daily standup and calling things sprints, you can actually add more overhead to a poor process. Your team members and scrum masters will become jaded if they are told they are self-organizing but continue to be assigned work on multiple projects with conflicting priorities and deadlines.
Even when done well, teams can often be confused about how to proceed and waste time thrashing on team processes. Training helps to avoid this by getting everyone on the same page with both the “how to do agile” and “how to be agile”. Training helps people to understand WHY they are doing something. They learn about the mindset and philosophy behind what they are doing.
Most of us already know all about Agile, right? And when we don’t, our minds fill in the blanks about what Agile is without our even knowing it. An easy example is the Scrum Master role. Even though the Scrum Guide is clear in describing the Scrum Master as a process coach, impediment remover, and facilitator, most everyone equates this role to the project manager! They assume that the Scrum Master also does everything that a traditional project manager would have done. [Read about confusion on the Scrum Master Role here.] So a big part of my Agile training is to help people to unlearn things that they think they already know.
Many times I find that team members bring their experience from other areas or organizations into their current team. Each of them believes that their prior experience from their previous company is the single best way to “do Agile”. They argue or they create some sort of weird hybrid agile; a combination of multiple frameworks like Waterfall and Scrum. They treat it like picking out food at a buffet. They end up with an agile Frankenstein that includes traditional waterfall approaches and bits and pieces of Agile and Scrum. Agile Mish Mash and hybrid approaches don’t work!
If you start out with poor Agile practices, any new teams that you start keep propagating the same bad patterns and mistakes from previous teams. The “norm” for Agile in the organization will just continue to get worse. Training can help people to overcome the bad patterns and to create more effective ways of working together.
If people see that Agile and Scrum are effective ways of working when used properly, they will be open to learning about other improvements. They will become more open to change and trying new things. The alternative that I have seen is when Agile and Scrum are used against people, they become more resistant to change. They simply put their head down and wait out the proposed change, instead of embracing change and continuous improvement.
It is difficult to change without a realistic assessment of your current state. There is an old saying that the first step in recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Without a clear idea of where people are today, there is no way to successfully help them get somewhere else. Training can help people to appreciate where they are, and what they don’t know. Or as in the previous example, what they believe they know that simply isn’t true.
If a client is interested, or even on the fence, I help them to think about small experiments they run. Perhaps a lunch and learn might wet the appetite for deeper training. I might also recommend a training pilot with one team. Or we might try “refresher” training for a team that is thrashing.
Another area of opportunity in most organizations is proper Scrum Master training for the individuals being asked to perform that role. Getting the CSM or PSM Scrum Master Certification is pretty easy. If we are asking people to take the important leadership role of Scrum Master, it should not be too much to ask to provide training. (Read more about Scrum Master Certification here). If you are using Kanban, XP or other Agile approaches that are not based on Scrum, other Agile certifications such as PMI’s Agile Certified Practitioner Certification (PMI-ACP) may be a better fit. Here’s A Quick Guide to the Best Entry-Level Agile Certification.
If you want to do a self-check to see if you need agile training, perhaps the following 10 questions will be helpful.