Don’t cut corners with your agile transformation
Four essential (but often neglected steps) in a transformation
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
I was out working on the boat again the other tonight. I’m replacing the cabin hatch boards, they’re kind of a mess. I really rushed to finish the boat when I first built it. I’m embarrassed to admit that I cut corners in a lot of places. So, I’m doing a lot of that kind of rework right now. It’s all because I didn’t take the time to do a really good job the first time around.
But isn’t that always that way it works? There’s never enough time, and after all, you just want to go sailing, right? I love building as much as the next guy, but I’m not doing this because I love handling power tools. I built this boat to sail it. However, in hindsight, I really should have given more time and attention to quality. I would have avoided a lot of unnecessary rework. So, here I am, late on a lovely summer evening in my garage, not out on a lake gliding across the water.
Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve encountered this problem. I see it in agile transformation work too. Often, when I start with a customer they are very excited to get started with their transformation. Maybe they’ve seen agile work really well someplace else. Maybe they’ve actually done it themselves. Whatever the case, they’ve plunked down a sizable investment to make this agile transformation happen. So, what do they expect? They want predictability, performance, enthusiasm, innovation – all the usual benefits. Oh yeah, and they want it right now. They don’t want to invest much in building it, because what they really want are the results. I really can’t say I blame them.
So off we go! I might start with questions like, “Can we take the time to come up with a formal statement of why this transformation is important?” Often, I ask for some ways that a customer expects to measure the success of their transformation. I know what you’re thinking, crazy, right? Often those questions get only superficial attention, or even worse, blown off completely. Everyone is in such a rush to get through the training and start doing this agile stuff, that they neglect to go through these more painstaking steps at the beginning of their transformation. That’s really just the beginning of the shortcuts. It’s not very long before I start having to answer questions like, “Can we cut that 2-day training down to a single day?” Or “Who really needs to be in that class?”
Just like with building my boat, it’s hard to tell you exactly where the line is between appropriate and inappropriate compromise lies. My experience has been that there are certain things that just shouldn’t be skipped. Here’s my personal top 4 items that I consider essential but often neglected when starting transformations:
You could put these items under the heading of chartering activities. They are the key elements needed to create alignment and consensus at the start of any large initiative.
I think I’m going to work a lot harder to avoid cutting corners on the next boat that I build. That’s probably either the voice of experience talking or the onset of a psychological disorder, but either way I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing. As someone who does a lot of agile transformations, my advice is probably similar: don’t try to go too fast and try to avoid cutting corners. Take the time to do some chartering. If you fail to take that advice, it could be that rather than doing great agile work, you might find yourself doing a lot of painful rework that you could have avoided. I can assure you that when it comes to rework, doing it with people is much more painful than doing it with a boat.