We're Agile but we're still Dysfunctional

We’re Agile, but our problems are still there.  We followed the Scrum recipe, but we have unrealistic deadlines, infighting and blame.

The books, the consultants, the case studies all promised a panacea, but why isn’t Agile solving all your problems?  Is Agile just another fad, leaving you with a hangover and the same dysfunctional organization you had before?

The Scrum “recipe” is a great way to get started but if the mindset and culture of your organization doesn’t change, Agile will be like putting lipstick on a pig.  Agile is about breaking old patterns of thinking and continually finding better ways of working.  Agile is not simply a new process to replace your old one.

There are 2 big things that organizations typically lack when they are struggling with Agile:  WIP (Work in Progress) Limits and a Team-Based org.  Every organization is unique, but these are the usual suspects.

“But I don’t have influence over those things, so what can I do as a team member?”

  • Use Responsibility Language to Overcome Blame
    When you're not in a team-based organization, the boundaries between groups creates and "us and them" mentality.  When teams are blaming each other for missing targets, the team is coping instead of solving.  Blaming doesn’t improve productivity and it’s really not fun for anyone either.

    • Update your working agreement to shift blame language to responsibility language.  For example “It’s their fault” -> “How can we help them?” For more on the Responsibility Process check out Christopher Avery's Responsibility Process

    • Level up your team on the leadership ladder.  For example: Someone asks “What should I do?” you say  “What do you think you should do?”  For more on the leadership ladder, check out David Marquet's Ladder of Leadership

  • Limit WIP on your Team
    This is going to take some courage.  You’re going to have to say "no" or "not yet".  Whether it’s work for you, as a single team member or work for the whole team.  Use your velocity charts to defend against having unrealistic deadlines imposed on you.

    • Organizational Impact: When you start saying “no” or “not yet” the organization is forced to move from WHIP to WIP Limits.  When you respond to the WHIP, you give them no reason to change.  When enough teams stand up for their WIP, the organization is forced to comply.

These tactics worked for me.  I'd love to hear what worked for you!