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Trying Agile? Dont let culture eat discipline for breakfast

August 29, 2016

More and more large companies in traditional industries are singing the Agile song. I have noticed, though, that there seems to be a general misconception that Agile is onlyabout creating happy teams. There’s more to an Agile mindset than happiness. It’s about learning, struggle, and growth. This is especially true when you’re trying to scale Agile across a large organization. Make no mistake, that’s a long-term game.

Culture is important, but a healthy culture is one that can be resilient. As we focus on building teams that can get to ‘done’ sooner, it’s not just about only making sure the team is happy. It’s about balancing the team between anxiety and complacency. If you focus only on happiness, the team may become complacent. If you focus only on rapid change, the team may become anxious. Maintaining a careful balance is key to managing the team’s level of comfort with change – and their performance.

It’s not so much about creating an Agile mindset… it’s really about creating a learning mindset. As we coach our teams, we’re trying to show practices – not for the sake of being Agile, but to use practices to expose teams to learn new ways to developing software. We’re trying to instill an empirical process of rapid learning.  Learning to do things differently is never comfortable. Think about when you were a student: You weren’t always happy, but you sure were growing. And when you saw success at the end, it was always worth it. When scaling Agile, we’re driving a learning mindset across whole levels of the organization. That’s bound to create some friction. 

Back to basics: Why do we do Agile?

Transforming to Agile is not the goal. Delivering high value products & services with the ability to react as quickly as possible is the goal.  The quicker we can get teams to ‘done’, the quicker we can get products in customers’ hands so that we can learn more from the customer and /or react to the way the market changes.

In the Agile Manifesto, both People and Process are valued; it simply declares that when push comes to shove, People come first. If Agile teams aren’t delivering, the company will die… But if we’re not Agile, we won’t deliver as effectively – the company will merely die a slower death by not being able to stay relevant to customers’ changing needs. You want the team to have fun and build a healthy culture, and be proud of what they deliver. This balance requires discipline.


How do you strike that careful balance between culture and discipline?



At the end of the day Agile is about learning, flexibility, and discipline that really helps you build ‘muscle’ as a team. We need that muscle because change is hard. It means leaving our comfort zone behind and, at times, sacrificing a fictional constant state of happiness for growth. It just takes a little effort to get comfortably uncomfortable.

I’d love to hear what you think about this topic. And, if you’re interested in learning more about what we’re up to at the Digital Factory, check out our website or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.



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