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Has Agile Plateaued? A Discussion with Quincy Jordan, Agile Thought

December 22, 2023

In this episode of the Community Podcast, host Dave West is joined by Quincy Jordan, VP of Agility at Agile Thought. The discuss the question, "Has Agile Stalled?" and review some of the points in a recent blog that Dave wrote.

They cover the following and more in this deep discussion:
- Agile has reached a plateau in organizations due to a lack of vision and understanding of its purpose, and how to address this
- Agile transformations and the importance of a culture of learning within large organization
-The importance of focusing on the "why" over the "how" for an effective organizational transformation




Dave West  0:20  
Hello, and welcome to the community podcast. I'm your host, Dave West CEO In today's podcast, we're going to talk to Quincy Jordan, VP of agility. It's Agile Thought, a big partner of I'm really excited to have Quincy, join us today. Because recently, we've been talking a lot about his agility stalled. So we're gonna be focusing on that topic. But before we do that, welcome to the podcast, Quincy.

Quincy Jordan  0:54  
Hey, thanks for having me, Dave. Happy to be here. Looking forward to having a nice robust conversation. So yes, happy to

Dave West  1:03  
be to. So before we get going, tell us a little bit about yourself. And, and I know our listeners really like to know where you're talking to us from, you know, in this in this big world that we live

Quincy Jordan  1:16  
through. So I live in Atlanta. I've been in the Agile space now for 20 plus years or so. And I partly say that because I consider and I know some people will disagree with this. But I consider my first exposure to Agile was robbed. And that was quite some time ago. So that's, that's my take. I know everyone doesn't necessarily agree with that point of view. But But yeah, so I mean, I really enjoy. I mean, I've been in traditional project management, just like a lot of other folks, program management and so forth. But the thing that always found for me, even in traditional project management, I found there was always like a, like a human part that was lacking. And so when agile became like, the bigger thing and Scrum became the bigger thing, it was a very natural transition for me, because it, it was a more structured way to do what I felt like in many ways I was already doing and had tendencies towards.

Dave West  2:30  
Oh, it's interesting that you mentioned RUP, if I process just for everybody on the call, I was the product manager of the Rational Unified process 23 years ago, so and that was the my first interaction with Ken Schreiber was because of that, and he told me I was an idiot. He then proceeded to tell me why some of work was really good and very agile in nature. But I was missing a bunch of things happened, I listened to this upstart that to, you know, that was that had written one paper. And I thought at the time, I was proven wrong. Later, and, and that's my journey as well. So we share a little bit of, of history. They're

Quincy Jordan  3:19  
so interesting, because I was at IBM at that time. And at that time, I actually didn't realize it was quite that new. So like, I didn't realize that until you just said that.

Dave West  3:33  
Yeah, I was we were acquired by IBM and right, we got balloons. That's all I can really remember about the acquisition and lost our free soda. But anyway, so it's always good to hear some common history. All right, so let's, let's get into the topic. So So I wrote this blog. I guess a few weeks ago now, based on my experience of attending agile 2023 conference in Orlando, that sort of bigger gathering on certainly, actually a much smaller gathering than it was, but it was a pretty large gathering. And the really, the Brog talks about this, this feeling I got the, we were talking about the same things. We were on my first agile conference, which was, what 12 1314 years ago, and that though, would delivered a lot of success at that team level. And I know that agile thought has been heavily involved in a lot of that team, you know, a lot of very successful deliver is very successful at a team level. The Enterprise kind of challenges haven't really changed that much. You know, the, the these agile teams are really being constrained by the environment that they're working to and you know, that they're good team so they cut the suit to suit the cloth, they inspect and adapt and they adapt to it. round it, but ultimately, their success is being constrained. Firstly, Quincy, I love your does. Does this resonate with you? Or do you see the same thing?

Quincy Jordan  5:13  
So I do. And as you were saying that it triggered some thoughts for me and I'll, I'll pull those in in just a minute. But, yeah, I do think there has been some level of a stall. And I think there's some good reasons for that. I did read your post your LinkedIn posts, and I thought it was very well written. And I agree on all the points, actually, that you put in there. One of the things that I wholeheartedly believe, has led to this stall, which I actually think is more of a natural plateau than just a stall. But I'll explain that part in just a moment, too. But I think one of the main reasons was that there's been lack of vision around agile spaces in organizations, at some point agile started becoming the reason why, and not the way. And so this has led to frustration of undesired outcomes and a lot of disappointment, you know, across different organizations. And so, I see agile in its present state as being similar to a young adult that has graduated from college. All right. So, you know, gone through adolescence, teen years, learn to form and function, gone to, you know, college and university, hit the real world, like, Wait, this is not exactly what I thought it was gonna be. And so I think some of that has been setting in because they're, that clear vision of what Agile needs to be used for, in a lot of organizations has not been there. And there's been a lot of tunnel vision around just trying to make sure that Agile is fair, but not understanding why agile needs to be there.

Dave West  7:22  
That's really interesting, because now I'm instantly trying to rewrite my blog, because I agree. I didn't really emphasize that. But I think that the underlying missing element to many of the transformations that I see is a really deep understanding of why why do we need to? Why do we need to inspect it out? Why do we need to be more agile, why doing more menial flexible? You know, I'm working in a large bank, we're making millions, I say billions of dollars, my jobs, okay, you know, it's not the best, if not the worst, you know, there's a great canteen, and we have a karaoke machine or whatever. And the but the why is is often missing other than we want things to be faster. We want things to be cheaper, we want a deliver more innovation, but those terms are kind of irrelevant. They're kind of playing platitudes. Right. Right.

Quincy Jordan  8:23  
Yeah. And, you know, so I was mentioning also around the like that it's the natural plateau. So, you know, if you think in terms of muscle development, you know, people work out, you're doing things. And your body can literally get to a point to where it's no longer responding to the same stressors that were there before. And so you actually have to do something different. It's not that your muscles won't develop is not that your muscles didn't develop, but you need to make some adjustments to get your muscles to respond differently. And I think many transformations had, they've done the form and function in the Agile space. And if we say, you know, specifically Scrum, and I hear this a lot, we're doing the ceremonies, events, we're doing the ceremonies, where we make sure that we're tracking our velocity. But if you ask them, What are the scrum values? What is the intent of the Agile Manifesto, not just the, you know, the principles, but what's the intent of it? They can't answer those questions a lot of times, and so there's, there's an adjustment that needs to be made. So that those agile muscles if you will, will start responding differently, they need different stressors than the stressors of. We have our scrum events, different stressors, then we look at our velocity there, there are additional stressors that need to be there. And I mean that in a positive way, not not, in a, like make things more complicated or hard away. But it's, I think there's been a plateauing. And I don't think that's actually bad, I think is bad if we don't recognize it, and make an adjustment to it. But again, no different than your muscles, it's not a bad thing that your muscles plateau, you just have to know that's what's happening so that you can make the proper adjustment to that plateau.

Dave West  10:47  
So, what I was seeing agile, by the way, I completely agree, and I wish I'd written that, but we all bow in, in the blog, maybe using some awesome analogies, like you did, but ignore that. So find a percent agree. But what I found that the Agile community has done at this plateau, or this stalled moment, is look inward, rather than looking outward, meaning that there, you know, the, I really respect the focus on professional coaching and the like, you know, the the heavy investment in team, I don't want to say psychology and coaching, but that kind of stuff. And it's all good stuff. However, ultimately, we need to look, you talked about the why the we're getting fit for a reason to use that muscle analogy. You know, I'm going to do a triathlon, I want to live longer, you know, I want to, I want to live so I can see my kids get old, you know, whatever those motivations are, you know, we need to start looking more outward and inward. And so just do you think that is part of our problem with this plateau? That we've because we've plateaued? We're like, oh, well, we don't want to change anything about how we fit into this new way. Oh, we want the world to change to right. You know what I mean?

Quincy Jordan  12:15  
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I was trying to make sure I was following First, but yes. Yes, I do think that is, uh, definitely think that is the case. You know, there's, I'll say sometimes it almost feels like, I like to be active in the Agile community. Even, you know, like an agile thought, the way that we run, a lot of things vary. So it's a learning organization within the Agile space that the agility that I am responsible for, and that's the way that I pretty much facilitate it. And but I like to bring in people from outside of our area, to get their perspective on things, to share their point of view. So I like to bring in sales, I like to bring in data, I like to bring in cloud, I like to bring in all those other areas and say, hey, when when we're on engagement, so like, What are you all thinking? What what, how do you all see this? What is your perception? And I don't think in general that we have done enough of that, from the Agile community out works to, whether it's the business community or that industry vertical, or, you know, whatever the case is, so that we can see a different point of view. And sometimes, it feels like so many people in the Agile community are walking around with Agile flashlights just like shining them at each other. Like, oh, I know, I know, this, I know this, you know, that. Like, okay, great. Let's shine the light towards the dark, instead of shining it towards each other. That's a

Dave West  14:10  
really good metaphor. The, I think the brain, you know, we spend so much time worrying about the ideas for each other, we almost present to each other rather than presenting to the outside world. Yes. And I think that needs to change. And by the way, I'm as guilty of this as anybody so I am not, I am in a I am in a greenhouse throwing stones here, by the way, you know, I'm, I'm, I'm definitely guilty of having a leak.

Quincy Jordan  14:42  
Right. We all have been, you know, at some point, I mean, we're, we're all contributors to where we are, you know, and I think as we make the adjustments, to the realization of where we are they And we can help move things forward, you know, until we get to that next plateau. I don't think across the board, I don't think we will regress. Because there's, there's so many benefits that a lot of organizations have experience that I think it'd be difficult for organizations to undo that even with the hope is okay to say, but even with, like the decisions that Capital One made, where they said, Oh, we're getting rid of all of our adult uniforms, okay. But if you kind of look under the hood and pay attention to some things, that's not exactly the case. So there's some practices and and benefits that I think they're still holding on to. So yeah, and there are a couple other things that I did want to point out too, that I think led to where we are. And it kind of goes back to just being caught up in some of the form and function at a point, which is, especially in the earlier days. And in unfortunately, still happens now. But so many organizations just said, Okay, well, we're going to take all our project managers, we're going to make them Scrum Masters, because it's the same thing. And we're going to take all of our Bas, and we're gonna make them product owners, because they're basically doing the same thing there's doing requirements is the thinking, which is not accurate, or it's incomplete, I should say. But I believe that created a poor agile experience for the organization, because you didn't have properly equipped people with the right mindset and perspective. And I think, to some degree to no fault of their own, I know in many cases to no fault of their own, they were not properly educated or trained to do those roles. And so humans as we are, when we're put under stress, whatever the thing is, that we're most confident that we've done before, even if it doesn't actually work in this next thing, but that's the thing that we tend to fall back to. And so you take all those project managers, former project managers, or former Bas, and they're now Scrum Masters and product owners. And then as soon as there's pressure, oh, the team isn't delivering enough, their capacity isn't, you know, being maximized, or whatever these things are, then they fall back into old habits. And then that becomes a poor experience for the organization from an agile perspective, because they're, they're experiencing something that really, either they shouldn't, or it needs to be really well understood that this will be part of their transformation, as they are maturing into roles that they did not previously have.

Dave West  18:22  
Actually, the funny should say about the whole role transfer, which often happens, project manager, Scrum Master BA, product owner, what's really interesting about that isn't just them being put into those positions, or having those accountabilities it is the fact that the organization still expects them to do what they did before. Right. So Agile is purely in that stovepipe, that, that, that, that one place there for all of the funding, governance, risk, status, reporting, all of that HR, you know, all of those things have stayed the same, but the team has changed. But ultimately, if you ask if the interface stays the same, it's incredibly hard for the you know, for the object girl some sort of going a bit soft way, but it's incredibly hard for that object to evolve and to change. And, and I think that we've put a lot of people in some very challenging positions because of that, which ultimately resulted in as you describe this poor experience around agility. It's just the same old thing we just, you know, it was it was a bunch of requirements or use cases or whatever. Now they're just a bunch of items in a backlog right? You know, the project, it had to be a product owner is managing that list and making sure the requirements are done right. And the teams are picking up from that list and we and we just chunk it, you know, into and they miss the the essential characteristics of agile, which is all about empower teams empirical process continuous improvement, which, which sort of gets lost along the way, particularly in large organization where you've got multiple teams working in some complex endeavor. So, so and I know we try to keep these these these podcasts very short, we could see, we could talk for days. But so All right, so plateaued stalled. So what do we do? What do we do?

Quincy Jordan  20:30  
So I think one thing is, more organizations should become learning organizations. And if they have a culture of learning, when I say learning, I don't, I don't mean it in quite the same continuous improvement type learning way. But I mean, having clear structure within the organization that enables and fosters learning to do things in an agile way, but reinforces it on an ongoing basis, it just becomes part of the culture. I think the the transformations that are stuck or stalled, or, or, you know, whatever the wording that we want to use, I think that's the part that they missed. They didn't bring their culture along. And they didn't insert a learning aspect with that. Because if you have that, then those folks that were dropped into those product owner roles, the scrum master roles, and, you know, they really didn't understand, well, they would have a way to further sharpen their craft in their skill set. But without that, it just becomes well. The throw them in the fire and just let them do it. You know, let's see what happens. And then there's an expectation that you're going to do everything. Exactly right, you know, as well. So I think that's one of the things that we can do is to ensure that there's, there are more learning organizations. The other thing that I think that we can do is understand how to recognize when a transformation has transformed. So I am a I'm a big believer and transformations, for sure. But I'm also a big believer, and being able to recognize a butterfly, that is no longer a caterpillar. And I think we have too many caterpillars still crawling around that we need to recognize, okay, that this thing should be flying or this thing is transformed. But we don't know what that looks like. There's so many organizations don't know what that looks like that they're still trying to transform, when in many instances, they really either already have or they should have by that point.

Dave West  23:17  
So sort of interesting, I'm, I'm not a big fan of transformation. I, I ultimately, really, I believe in transition and sort of building in that sort of muscle memory of continuous change, because that is going to be the reality, which is I think what you're sort of describing was interesting, I wanted to just lean in briefly on the learning stuff. So that's something that you do at agile thought agile thought for the people that are listening is a amalgamation of organizations that ultimately now have a sort of common, a common narrative and approach to change and the way in which from my understanding, you navigated this, multiple changes over over your over your tenure was to put in the this sort of learning organization with the guilds and the like. And that continuous sharpening of your swords also cross fertilization of the guild's across that has provided that level of learning that's from my understanding as a, as a layman looking on from the outside. Is it? Is that really the essence of what you mean about learning organization?

Quincy Jordan  24:26  
Yes, it is. And in I want to make sure that, you know, we don't cause the listeners to get caught up on you know, guilds or

Dave West  24:39  
the community.

Quincy Jordan  24:43  
So, regardless of what those entities have call, but there needs to be entities where individuals within their area of expertise have the opportunity to Pitch knowledge share with each other, learn from each other. And then also to bring outside perspectives that their roles interact with in different ways or impact, and get their perspective on, you know, various situations, whatever those situations are. You know, whether it's, Hey, you know, philosophy is for the team is not really, you know, for you all the luck, you all want to use this and then you want to beat everyone up with it and weaponize it and so forth. So we have our perspective on it. Right. All right. But then it is valid to try to understand from that other side, why do you want to use velocity that way? Why do you understand it that way? What do you think the purpose in it is, because then at that point, you can now maybe give them something better to use that actually brings more value to them, and the overall organization or engagement so that they're not basically misusing something. And I don't, in my experience, there are those who do that, which are typically on, you know, either the business owner or the management side. Typically, more senior leaders, they're not doing it to hurt. No, they're doing it because they don't understand a better way. And so we have to help show them a better way. But we will never know that. If we're not learning. If we don't have a mechanism to where we can have that type of exposure to other parts of the organization. The learning isn't just learn agile and learn Scrum, and, you know, or whatever else, you know, it's let's learn how we can be more effective for the vision that we need to fulfill.

Dave West  27:08  
Yeah, I think one of the biggest mistakes we ever made with the Spotify model was not asking enough about the why. And you know, that their model their how they described it, which I know many people have said they're not really doing it, and nobody's doing it, blah, blah. But it doesn't really matter. That's sort of secondary to the to that abs that that that model that they'd how they describe it, and the What the Why. And I think you're describing the why very clearly, about the importance of building a mechanism in your organization that is supporting of each other. It's not what have you done, but who have you helped. And that requires knowledge sharing, it requires transparency, it requires sort of like learning, etc. And I think that's super, super powerful for how we become less stalled. And we can, you know, sort of make some make some progress as as it were.

Quincy Jordan  28:09  
Yep. Yeah, absolutely.

Dave West  28:11  
So all right, we're at the end, I know, we could talk for days. Our listeners all over the world, listening to this, maybe they're going through a store process. Is there any final nugget Quincy that you'd like to share? We talked about building in that learning organization? We talked about creating that sort of like that, thinking about what that transformation? Is it still a transformation? Is it something else that we've moved to any final words for our listeners, as we, as we depart,

Quincy Jordan  28:46  
I would just say, you know, be open, focus on being effective, not on, you know, going by the letter of the law, you know, so to speak, but being effective in what you're doing. I know that we talk a lot about creating value. And I wholeheartedly agree with that. I do think a way to do that is to make sure that effectiveness is paramount and what is being done. We don't want to do things for the sake of doing it. And we sometimes get caught up in that. And so yeah, that would be my my parting statement is be open and focus on being effective.

Dave West  29:36  
I think they are great words to live by not just in the Agile world, but in general, I think. Well, thank you. Thank you very much for for spending the time and talking to us here, the community podcast. For our listeners. Thank you for spending the time out of your day. Hopefully this has been an informative conversation. I'm here with Quincy Jordan, VP of agility at agile thought. And we've been talking about has agile stalled or has it plateaued, which is I think, how Quincy described it and I really liked that. Thanks for listening, everybody. You have a great day. Take care. Bye bye.

Quincy Jordan  30:19  
Thank you. Thanks for having me.


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