Let’s implement agile, tick in the box, done!


…This is to all of you corporate agile coaches out there. Hang in there…!

Some days ago I chatted with one of the smartest persons I know, let’s call the person Leslie. A brilliant engineer with several years of experience in coding and developing software for the medical instrument industry. This is serious, life-saving code, and she is enthusiastic about the bigger meaning of her work. She enjoys the respect of her fellow colleagues, because she really knows her science and her code.

Leslie has always been great with people, and quite recently she started working as a Lead Scrum Master, helping other Scrum Masters do their jobs, teams to collaborate and communicate across boundaries, countries, time zones and professions. She told me stories about how she helps teams communicate and find solutions together. These narratives explain the value of having a coach, the value of caring for and facilitating the people-side of agile.  But the thing is: she can’t put a measure on what she does.

How do you incentivize the fact that because she asked three very important questions a month ago, the teams across two continents were successful in compiling the last pieces of code for the groundbreaking technology they are about to release? How do you objectivize or measure her job when her daily activity may include speaking with 5 people, helping 4 people understand each other, sitting in on 3 meetings as an observer, and preparing how to facilitate a team to think creatively on novel ideas around their delivery.

What did she accomplish during that day? NOTHING, on paper.

But maybe the twenty daily small interventions on the people side could save a year of development time. She does not know. And she never will. She is lucky she has a boss who gets this. Who experiences the impact of her work.

“Let’s make your work more tangible and measurable”

Unfortunately, others higher up in the hierarchy do not. They are asking her what she is working on “exactly”. They want to add some project roles to her, to make the role includes enough work, and make it “more tangible and measurable”. As if trying to help tens of highly qualified, highly skilled and experienced individuals (across different time zones) create something novel and ground breaking was not complex and difficult enough.

This is only underlining further what I’m hearing all along from the agile field. The lower you go in hierarchy, and the longer the person has experienced working hands-on in an agile team, the better the person gets what agile is (or could be) for that company. (…ok, yes. That was a no-brainer…)

For most people up the ladder “agile” is just another tick in the box. “A new method”, which everyone uses. Let’s implement this. Ok, done. Now, let’s sell, estimate, manage, measure, evaluate and report as we’ve always done. Why change something that works, right?

These people have currently absolutely no idea why competitors who get agile/lean are able to pick and choose the most profitable customer cases from the market. (Maybe the competitors have “implemented” agile better?)

These people will have no idea what hit them, when sometime in the future a CEO will come in who really gets agile/lean. A British CEO of a successful agile organization told me, “if I would take on a role in an “old-school” corporation, the first thing I’d need to do is to get rid of the middle manager layer/s almost altogether, because it mostly useless in an agile system”.

These people have no idea, that the agile paradigm turns most corporate assumptions upside-down, and even if they did, would they have the balls/ovaries and support to start changing the whole system? They are heading heads on towards the biggest surprise of their careers. Uselessness. In ten years, maybe less?

Meanwhile, Leslie is working her cognitive capacity off, trying to help adult, socially restricted “I already know it all-IQ-superstars” (**) develop into talented communicators, listeners and collaborators. She will develop hard core experience in influencing people, she will have gone through the ups and downs of agile, hit her head multiple times against corporate impediments and thus will know how to build systemic changes to support agile and lean kind of work.

Who would you recruit up the ladder in ten years?  A Leslie or the tick-in-the-box manager?


Agile coaches. Prepare yourself for intensive attraction attempts to leadership positions within ten years.

Thanks for reading.


(** Please, you smart, fantastic coder/developer/engineering professionals out there, please don’t feel offended. I like you, and like to work with you. But to be kindly honest, you are a certain breed of genius, and not always the most socially talented or -considerate communicator, especially when communicating outside your in-group.)


Picture: Photo credit: h.koppdelaney / Foter / CC BY-ND

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