There's one problem with silver bullets - they don't work!

13 December

“There’s one problem with silver bullets: They don’t (often) work” – Dan Cumberland


In my opinion, the current state of agile is entering an interesting phase in that “agile” has become “Agile” (and hence the silver bullet) with the focus more on vendor tools and frameworks without thinking through what problem agile is attempting to solve. It is a situation in which the agile industrial complex seems to have taken a significant hold on the overall community - big consulting firms have come in, ignored the overall context of the organisation and rolled out a solution that may not fit the needs of the company. To some extent I am generalising, though it seems a backlash towards “Agile” is starting to bubble. That’s the problem with silver bullets.

I’ve seen silver bullets appear as I’ve worked with a number of organisations that saw agiilty equals ‘whatever tool was sold to them’ and agility equates to “going faster” – it makes it easy to implement and control right? Well... not quite. A tool is a vehicle that enables agility to occur at multiple organistional levels by enabling a degree of visibility and transparency. The problem becomes when the medium (the tool) becomes the message (solving our business problems) as opposed utilising the medium to understand the content (the message).  What lessons are we attempting to learn and what behaviours do we see?

Where agility becomes powerful (through the lessons learnt) is when we are able to see what issues we have uncovered in our company processes and systems, adapt and then look to improvise based on our own context. In other words, the power is not just in the frameworks (such as scrum et al) but the ability to adapt those frameworks that suit our context, cadence and our way of working and make it fit us – not us fit the framework. This is the power of taking an agile lens to the way we work and helping us become more effective AND more efficient as suits our needs. The message is the medium. For example, do we DO scrum (or XP or whatever framework of choice) or do we UTILISE scrum to achieve our goals?

With regards to the message, this article is not a suggestion that we can do whatever we want, when we want (though we could) – that's a road to potential chaos. There is a need for organisational alignment all the way through the value stream(s) to allow teams and programs of work to sync. With this in mind, we need to begin by understanding the systems of the organisation (through its multiple layers), the context in which teams work locally, remotely, and as programs and the value streams in which they operate. Then, we need to adapt the frameworks to support these elements to unlock the true definition of agility - being quick, nimble and moving with (a degree of) ease. This unfortunately takes time to unlock and will ebb and flow with these discoveries, but is the heart of business agility. As great US college basketball coach John Wooden said: “Stay the course. When thwarted, try again; harder; smarter. Persevere relentlessly.”

An alternative is a silver bullet.


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This article was written by SoftEd trainer, Brian Osman.

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