The Enterprise Agile Framework Illusion

“The trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they’re organized for.”
-Laura Ingalls Wilder

Nearly every large organization does it.  Just when we think we’ve learned…made an impact…demonstrated that success is possible on large projects in massive organizations riddled with problems…the need to control takes over, and lessons are lost.  Outdated management theory that has stifled innovation in our businesses for decades is reapplied.

Enter the Methodologists
Heretofore sitting quietly on the sidelines, safely watching without involvement as the new methods resulted in true change, the methodologist and other pointy-haired bosses emerge.   Surely success can’t be the result of a framework which allows teams to decide the best course of action in pursuit of shared vision and goals.  Now that they’ve succeeded, we must formalize and document exactly what they did, create a new set of steps, phases, templates, and more – so that we can roll out our “Enterprise Agile Framework” cookie-cutter style to the rest of the organization.  Because the team that succeeded was an anomaly- normal teams can’t succeed that way.

Usually what follows is the change effort that has started to grow on its own is halted as these “experts” attempt to break down the success, Newton-style, into all of its identifiable parts.  They convince leadership to not start other Agile projects until they have defined the framework…the model.

A “hybrid” methodology is born…the change effort dies…and with it, so dies improvement…because:
•    Projects following the new formalized method aren’t as successful and suffer from the same challenges as those before Agile was introduced
•    By defining the process we are breaking most of the Agile manifesto principles (especially #1 “[we value] Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools”)
•    As Laura Ingalls Wilder describes above, peoples’ roles are relegated to filling out templates and following steps, not developing successful product
•    Agile is a holistic, principles-based concept that is not just another set of steps, documents, roles, and phases

If this sounds like your situation, your Agile adoption may already be over.  If you are a leader in such an organization, do what you can to stop this search for the Holy Grail– you won’t find it – what you find won’t be magical at all.  Refocus those proposing this re-application of old mental models before you are sentenced to eternal mediocrity.

Hybrid Methods – The Beginning of the End of your Improvement Efforts
Saying we are going to use a “hybrid” method is a polite way to describe the desire to not solve organizational dysfunction of some kind.    Your improvement effort has uncovered some nasty reality of the way you do business that is so frightening that you’d rather hide it than correct it.  (“It would shake too much up!”  “Too many people have built decades of their growth on these old problems- what a political nightmare it would be to change them!” “What would all those managers do with their time when it seems we don’t have roles for them?”)  Instead, re-introduce some of the old ways we used to sweep the problems under the *cough* –  deal with the problems – create some formal steps and documents to fill out that ensure that no one is accountable (“It’s not my fault- I did my job – I filled out my templates…”), and nothing need change.

Packaged Process Solutions – Miracle Cure in a Bottle (or, Hair of the Dog)
I am hereby calling out all of the consultancies that offer packaged process solutions as salesmen of miracle cures.  Shame on you for taking advantage of the suffering.
Organizations in the normal, healthy part of a successful change effort (wherein huge amounts of pain are experienced as their organizational antibodies attempt to reject the foreign bodies that have been introduced) are weak.  They are in pain.  The reality upon which they’ve based countless decisions (and many, many millions of dollars) has been torn apart by small teams determining for themselves how to develop product without the massive frameworks defined by brilliant methodologists – and it is a big pill to swallow that the real solution is far simpler.  These organizations are going through withdrawal, and the bottled miracle cure offered by the consultancy is oh so tempting…like a drink during a hangover, the one puff two weeks into quitting cigarettes, or a fix when going cold turkey.  It would be so easy to just buy my way out of this…make all the problems and pain go away…not have to change anything.  And if the packaged process doesn’t work, it won’t be my fault (not anyone who is left to implement it in the organization, anyway).

The realities of packaged process solutions
•    The consultancies that come up with them rarely use them…and those few that do have much more highly controlled environments in which to execute than you do
•    The more you “balance agility with [ceremony]” the farther you get from the real factors that influence project success (there is “Too Much Stuff”)
•    They are an easy way out of having to overcome your dysfunctions
•    You will likely not be very agile, and will likely suffer from the same problems you always have

If you are in the middle of an Agile adoption, and you have a moment to reflect, and hear the proposal of a packaged agile process solution, raise the red flag.  Agile is not just another set of steps, documents, phases, and roles – it is a fundamental change in the mindset and culture of everyone involved in product development.

If you go with the Enterprise Agile Framework – either in the form of the home-grown “hybrid” method or the packaged process solution
Change is really hard – sometimes too hard to handle.  There is no shame in not being able to make it all the way.  The bigger the organization, the more difficult it is to change.  Call us when it has not resulted in massive improvement.   Agile is a 12-step program to get over traditional method addiction, and good coaches will never turn away someone who admits they have a problem.

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