14 AugThe NoTextBook Agile or let’s improvise intelligently…

Nowadays, when Agile, Lean, Scrum and Kanban, etc. are, essentially, the way to be, it seems to be “fashionable” amongst most companies to implement one or a combination of these approaches. Whether this is done purely to keep up with the trend, or out of genuine pursuit for a better and more efficient approach to delivery varies from one company to another. One underlying similarity, however, seems to be the firm belief in “textbook version is not really applicable for us, we have our own unique organisational constraints…”

That statement is impossible to ignore or dismiss, surely, most of us do recognise and agree that each team and each organisation are unique and there is no template solution that would work for all. Neither is there any need to advocate for uniformity.

Nonetheless, I could not even count all the times I have heard individuals with virtually no real understanding of principles and practices behind either of those trendy methodologies claim that they want to be flexible, and adapt methodology to their needs, after all “Inspect and Adapt is one of the big things in Agile, isn’t it…”

True – it is, and true – it is not rocket science and experimenting is encouraged, but as tempting as adapting may be, how about we pause for a moment and try to understand the actual basics of the “textbook” approach… After all, as anyone playing a musical instrument would be able to confirm, improvisation is so much easier and more fun once you have at least the basic skills… Not to say you couldn’t try without (and even be very successful too), yet most of us moderately skilled/talented humans tend to not necessarily come up with the latest jazz hits during our first virtuoso jam sessions. (Note: there are always exceptions to the rule, but let’s have some humility and not immediately assume we’re just that one in a million ;)

Similar to many other fields, it is ok to treat textbook(s) only as a form of guidance and assume that is only one approach that worked for the author (“he never saw our organisation, we are different!”), it is also ok to assume that the advocates for the “textbook” approach within your organisation are promoting that “because that is the only thing they know”. Nonetheless, how about gaining at least enough understanding about that textbook approach to be able to break the rules more confidently?. After all, how can we firmly state the textbook approach is not for us, if we change it before giving it a try?

Having enough respect for the basic guiding principles to at least understand why those recommended principles and practices exist will not only result in no harm (very unlikely), but will, in fact, expose a good number of organisational issues that need to be addressed…

Once unique organisational issues are brought to the surface and it is agreed that our reality is far from perfection, there is, of course, no need to be too rigid about our solutions, BUT adapting with the guiding principles in mind and acknowledging that adaptation is a temporary compromise will encourage us to resolve the issues and start the path of continuous improvement, whereas constant adaptation of the process to seemingly make our current issues disappear will, most likely, address the symptoms of the issues and will only create an illusion of  a “successfully adapted process that fits our company”.  This trap will push us back into the vicious cycle we were trying to break by adapting the trendy “inspect and adapt” approach… For example, assuming our product is too complex to be able to deliver shippable code at regular short intervals will most likely result in us dedicating special time for “hardening”. Making the opposite assumption (i.e. the practice works, we just have a number of blockers on our path to implementing the practice) will result in the need to challenge status quo and address resolve a number of organisational blockers that were, perhaps, hidden before.

To conclude, I in no way advocate a textbook methodology that will resolve all the issues an organisation has, however I do strongly advocate taking the time to learn and understand what the underlying principles of your chosen approach are and, more importantly, why do those exist?  Any time you are tempted to assume there is need for adapting a process/practice, just ask yourself whether the change is being done to mask an existing issue or to truly bring more value.

This will equip you with enough skill to make that improvisation a pleasant jam session!

Let’s break the rules and challenge the existing beliefs to discover new and better ways, but let’s do that intelligently! ;)

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