Agile is being seen as a way to help improve team performance. If we just go agile we’ll be so much better. The problem is many people are still viewing agile as a collection of techniques. Yes, there are some new approaches. I would argue there are less new techniques and more existing techniques with new names. A few years ago I saw someone introduce an agile technique called “Shadow Me”. This is where you go watch someone do their job to understand current state. We have been calling that observation for a while now. On the flip side, those not completely buying in say analysis is analysis regardless if you are on an agile team or more traditional waterfall team. These arguments or debates miss the point and don’t help teams improve. What helps teams improve is a mindset shift that takes more work to implement. There is a way of thinking that is subtle and makes a huge impact. And this mindset is where the real difference of agile comes in.
Outside of my day job I volunteer for an organization of which my family are members. I was appointed to a special committee by the board of directors. Our committee is working on an initiative where communication to members is critical. We came up with a communication plan and now working on the implementation. One of the items included having printed material at an event where a majority of the members would be attending. Our committee was not given a formal budget so a message was sent to the board treasurer to understand how we should request funds for this initiative. The treasurer's, let's call her Commander Cate, response was basically, this initiative is not important enough to spend money on outside resources so we should use our internal copier. Commander Cate went on to tell us what she thought was important enough to spend money on. I couldn't believe it. When I saw the email my first thought was “who is she to tell us what to do”. She was not involved in the day to day discussions and now she wants to make decisions like this. Our committee was very clear this effort was extremely important and we wanted high quality collateral.
Not speaking up about controversial issues can cause project failure.
It takes courage to speak up in the face of a perceived flaw or error. This is particularly true when the idea being critiqued has been put forward by someone in a hierarchy above you. First, you might be wrong. Then again you might be right and subject to firing or other penalties. Courage is not enough, though. Timing and diplomacy are also required. It is all about saying the right things at the right time to the right people in the right way.
The Trip to Abilene
The Trip to Abilene is a story by Jerry B. Harvey about how four intelligent and well meaning people took an unpleasant trip to somewhere that none of them wanted to go. The Abilene paradox is a phenomena that takes its name from this anecdote.
The Abilene paradox is the cause of many a misstep by organizations. People do not speak their mind when what is in their mind is opposed to the perceived general opinion of the people around them. Note that the Abilene paradox is different from group think. With group think, people are convinced that the group's idea is sound. In the paradox, people are consciously aware that they oppose the idea and are acting contrary to their own thoughts and insights.
“Nothing happens until something moves.”
Anyone who has had the privilege of working on a project team has also undoubtedly had the experience of balancing varying opinions and agendas, weighing the potential of analytical paralysis that often stems from that, and navigating the fog of uncertainty throughout the term of the project.
Although these classic project pitfalls are often annoying and can stall or even derail a project timeline, they are also ironically some of the key exercises that help to fill critical knowledge gaps and ultimately ensure good results. While slowing down execution speed is never desired, failing to tease out these pitfalls is far worse. It is the truly skilled project manager that can strike the balance between perceived perfection and the real courage it takes to do the project right, with all its warts and pimples.
As a project management consultant I have had the privilege of working with a variety of personalities from a variety of cultural and educational backgrounds— research scientists, chemists, tech geeks, lawyers, doctors and “suits” from all around the globe. One thing I can say without hesitation is that this line of work has been an adventure. (My wife would probably agree although I am not sure she would use the word “adventure” exactly).