The Agile Executive

Making Agile Work

Persona of the Agile Team

with 4 comments

Many of us encountered situations in which the spread of Agile in an organization came to a halt. It was quite successful at the project level, but did not spread to the product line; it worked well for the product line, but did not get accepted by the business unit; or, it proved itself in the business unit, but success did not lead to adoption at the enterprise level.

I recently read The Living Company by Arie de Geus. His perspective is that a company has a persona. To quote de Geus:

… as a living entity, a company is always insecure, never stable, always subject to shifting relationships between the company and the outside world.

Furthermore, de Geus suggests a company has its own ladder of personae: Individual –> Team –> Work Group –> Division –> Company –> Corporation –> Society. According to de Geus, the persona of an organizational entity satisfies the criteria (cited by William Stern) for a living persona. Like live human beings, organizational entities:

… must find their place in the world; they must develop a sense of relationship between their own persona’s ethical priorities and the values in the surrounding world…. The Persona has an influence on the world around it as an example, a “role model,” but it can never equalize the world’s view with its own.

If you accepted this premise, implications with respect to spreading Agile are intriguing.  A mismatch between the involved organizational personae might be the obstacle to broader acceptance of Agile. The mismatch might be related to Agile. Or, it could equally well be unrelated. For example, it might revolve around the need of one organizational entity or another to self-preserve itself.

I find it fascinating that Ken Schwaber has actually discussed Agile success and failure along somewhat similar lines, as follows:

I estimate that 75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the benefits that they hope for from it… The intention of Scrum is to make [their dysfunctions] transparent so the organization can fix them. Unfortunately, many organizations change Scrum to accommodate the inadequacies or dysfunctions instead of solving them. [AgileCollab interview of February 19, 2008]

The corollary from the observations of Stern, de Geus and Schwaber might seem counter-intuitive. If the spread of Agile in your company has stalled, providing qualitative and quantitative data on the benefits of Agile might not be the best way to win over support for broader adoption. Instead of hard sell of Agile benefits, focus on cross-organizational dynamics, pathologies and development.

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Written by israelgat

April 12, 2009 at 8:43 pm

4 Responses

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  1. I have always believed persuasion starts by understanding the entity you are trying to persuade. I agree it is not always possible to do so with straight logic and benefits. In fact, I often have to lead with dollars and cents the higher I go in an organization. They can see and understand benefits, but without dollars associated with it they are unlikely to give approval. Just one example I see all the time.

    As usual, great blog post Israel.

    Bob Hartman

    April 12, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    • Thanks for the kind words, Bob!

      I have been a great proponent of quantification of the benefits of Agile for quite sometime now. Having read Ken’s interview and The Living Company, I start wondering whether in certain circumstances I might be addressing a symptom instead of an underlying cause.

      No doubt, the higher you go the more they ask about $$. However, I often feel the emphasize on $$ is a “common currency” phenomenon. It is the path of least resistance for choosing between investment/resource allocation alternatives that are very different in nature. One, of course, must address it in order to get Agile initially accepted. After Agile has proven successful in a couple of projects, it might not be the real question anymore.

      Israel

      israelgat

      April 13, 2009 at 7:21 am

  2. […] Schwaber’s 75% failure rate estimate corresponds to attempts to change the core culture of an organization as part of the Agile rollout. […]

  3. […] agree with the conclusion of israelgat’s post on Agile Manager, Persona of the Agile Team: If the spread of Agile in your company has stalled, providing qualitative and quantitative data on […]


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