Yesterday was my first day in a new position. I’m now co-founder of a start-up called Mydosis. But this blog post is not about what’s coming, it’s about what I’m leaving behind.
I’m leaving behind a career as an Agile consultant. I used to call me “Agile coach” but nowadays I see Jerry Weinberg’s definition of consulting – “influencing people at their request” – a much better fit for what I had been trying to achieve during the last 10 years. Which gets me in the middle of my frustration with the idea of bringing Agile to the masses.
During the first years of Agile development, Agile promotion and Agile influencing was a source of joy and positive fulfilment for me. Most of the time I had to deal with developers and teams who actually embraced the “extreme” ideas I brought them. Sure, their managers were initially unwilling to accept two people working on one computer or the team insisting on doing the estimations themselves. But in the end every team member knew they personally were much better off – even if they had to make a few compromises to interface with the non-agile rest of the company.
Then the nature of my assignments changed. Suddenly it was the CEO or at least s.o. from upper management who initiated the “Agile transition” in order to “adapt faster to a changing market”. At the beginning I deemed that a good thing, since I had always been complaining about the lack of management support. However, the work itself got ever more frustrating and ever less rewarding, especially when dealing with teams who were pushed towards Agile and hadn’t had the chance to choose for themselves. From then on, I spent most of my time trying to convince somebody of something that he or she didn’t actually want to do. If this sounds to you like a depressing way to earn your money, it was. Even when showing very hands-on techniques – like TDD or refactoring – I felt the lack of enthusiasm; first in my clients but then more and more in myself.
Slowly it dawned on me: We, as Agile consultants, have been abused by management to do all the convincing and motivation for them. In my opinion it should be the most essential part of their job to bring the right people together for the new challenge, might it be a new product, a leaner approach for the old product or a complete turn around of the company. Instead they hired us to do the impossible: Change their employees in a way that suits their latest business strategy. Accepting such an assignment often made us violate the “first Agile commandment”: People over process.
“People over process” can – and often should – mean: not doing an agile transition at all. Human beings have a right to choose which changes they want to go through and when. There are many valid personal reasons for not doing TDD, not taking accountability and not moving into a common team room. Let’s accept those reasons without being contemptuous and without trying to manipulate. Heck! – it’s the managers’ task to align their employees’ personal goals with those of the company. The few successes and the many failures during my time as Agile consultant have taught me one thing: It needs different people to make a different company. Rare exceptions will only prove the rule.
So, my dear fellow-coaches, my dear friends, we had a good time together. Sometimes even a great time. We brought teams from being overwhelmed by bugs to a zero-defect continuous feature flow. We turned around a company who was under severe legal pressure by its customers to a +50 net promoter score. We convinced senior managers that giving up control will enhance their teams’ productivity. But, on the way, we made some people unhappy, maybe a few very unhappy, and sometimes didn’t even notice.
I hope to see you all around, but I won’t be back to the party.