You may be far more agile than you realised

How was your first client meeting of the year? Mine did not go according to plan.

We’d arranged the meeting just at the end of last year knowing full-well that it was going to be tough getting back to work on a Thursday following the long break for the festive season and that coffee would probably feature prominently.

Breaking with a long standing personal tradition of improvisation (ironically, contrary to what we teach in our agile training courses), I’d written a three point agenda along the lines of:

–          review the current situation (the client had been up and running for only three months);

–          recognise how agile could support the organisation’s goals (identify the relevant benefits);

–          figure-out how agile values, principles and practices could be incorporated.

We already had a basic plan for the last point, which was to explain Agile to the management team and help them think about how to implement it.

After a bit of holiday chat and drinking the first round of coffees, we looked at the new brochure and saw that our “agile objective” fitted perfectly into the list bottom-left of page seven. We reviewed the head count for last year / this year (which I still think of as last year and next year). Staying comfortably in the realm of the first item, we talked about individual teams, leaders and some of the structured activities.

Which was when I started to hear things I wasn’t expecting. Remember that this was effectively a not-for-profit start-up and so I didn’t expect to hear that teams were already showing signs of “peer managing themselves.” Or, that team members had formed an advisory unit whose meetings senior managers could attend “only if their presence was needed.”


It doesn’t matter what it’s called, but agility is driven from the head of the organisation

It was when I heard about a meeting held every four weeks to review what everyone thought of the previous period that I realised I was speaking to an inherently agile leader, and I told her so. I suggested that many of the activities she had described are actually named and prescribed in the various Agile methodologies.

Then we started to talk about scheduling a briefing to introduce agile to the team. Now I’m very familiar with the standard responses to scheduling questions. There are just two variations. Variation 1: before the project starts next week/month; or variation 2: middle two weeks of March/ October because that’s when everyone is in the office.

Today was different. Today, I was told something that left me (nearly) speechless with admiration: “we review all the timetables every two weeks, so everyone is used to being flexible. When would you like to come?”

By the second coffee stage it was apparent that the best approach would be to present some agile terms to the team so they had a common language, help them to map those terms onto existing processes and then gently facilitate as they devised their own adoption strategies.

This client was already deeply familiar with the benefits agile can deliver and was already working in an agile manner. They had the advantage of starting from a clean slate and the good fortune to have pragmatic, passionate and resourceful leadership.

Reflecting on today’s meeting gave me an intriguing view of the cross tensions between a planned versus an intuitive approach. And flexible versus sticking to a plan execution. I’m looking forward to learning a lot more from this client, as we work together in the future.

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