Agile Paradox

The role of the agile Coach in ensuring richer project delivery

Enterprise Agility and “being more agile” has emerged as one of the primary goals of organisations in the current climate in response to more uncertainty.

The historical context of Agile in Software development and project delivery has given rise to many methodologies which can be followed in order to become Agile. SCRUM, SaFE and DSDM are all well-established prescriptions which offer their followers a pathway to Agility.

Practitioners and Agile coaches are able to set-up pre-defined processes and follow them in order to achieve their goal.

Agility or Rigidity?

However, what if these ‘agile’ methods in themselves inadvertently make teams more rigid and less nimble in the face of constant change.

I am not averse to using a framework and set of guiding principles in order to create an entry point into what can be woolly and irrational projects and change initiatives and project delivery. However, caution must be urged if the end goal becomes the implementation of ‘agile processes’ above all else. This singular view of success can create a false narrative which focusses on process over progress and disregard other important focal areas which may not be so obvious to monitor.

Indeed, some of the messiest sprints I have ever worked upon during project delivery have borne the most fruit. These are sprints in which the team responded to an unexpected external factor, and pulled together, communicated and focussed on a revised goal — so although the process was not perfect, the end result was certainly successful and that is because we cannot, no matter how hard we try, control every nuance of change.

Why is Agility Important in Project Delivery?

Therefore, alongside any ‘agile method’, the organisation must study and reflect on what the overall end-goal is. What should these methods produce, why is agility important? Once these wider goals are uncovered, a richer tapestry of KPI’s can be collated in order to monitor progress which can go beyond the basic framework, this can also be one of the first tasks of an Agile Coach. I like to focus on culture and values as well as the obvious ‘hard’ processes. I have seen some very neat sprints, where on the face of it, all is in order, but scratch the surface and the team is dysfunctional — mistrust, lack of collaboration and understanding as well as disregard for all contributors to the sprint. This one-dimensional focus is unlikely to succeed for long.

Wider Goals of Project Delivery

Working in connected programmes means that the single goal of a team usually exists in a jigsaw of wider goals where one cannot succeed without the other. Therefore, it is no use a single stream forging ahead in isolation. Indeed methods and approaches need to flex in order to have a greater impact. Yet I have seen some agile coaches who are reluctant to ‘bend the rules’ and collaborate because that is just not “AGILE.”

Finally, unleashing individual creativity to enhance the wider team is one of the core cultural tenets of agile teams. Yet rigidly following a set of rules can almost stifle this basic human need. Agile coaches must learn how to safely harness this whilst following the basic agile framework — after all from discipline comes freedom. Yet not acknowledging this aspect can again have longer term consequences.

Having the Courage to Flex

It is this rigid following that we constructively challenge in the spirit of further advancement as having the courage and support to flex is at the heart of agility. Dare we try something different and see how it lands? — After all, if we are working in 2-week timeboxes, we should be safe…

Anthony Nellis has worked in Agile initiatives for over 20 years, as a DSDM practitioner, SCRUM Master and Agile Coach. He is an accredited performance coach and Co-founder of Questline.

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