As Agile and Scrum have shown accelerated adoption within larger organizations over the last few years, many in the Agile community have already declared victory. Not only are Agile proponents suggesting Agile has “won”, but many are also using the adoption trends as proof that Bottom-Up is the “only right way” to transform an organization leveraging Agile and Lean principles and tools. The drum beat around Bottom-Up values and practices has become so widespread that I now routinely find my new prospective clients designing entire organizational transition plans based on an absolute belief that Top-Down is “bad” and Bottom-Up is “good”. As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for…
As Agile momentum has swung to large, mainstream enterprise firms; there is an emerging failure pattern I see increasingly present in large companies who were early to the Agile game. In companies where Bottom-Up was the principal approach to Agile adoption, I rarely see evidence for organizational change beyond a narrowly optimized, short-term software development execution focus. Few systemic changes are present around upstream strategic disciplines including Product and Requirements Management and fewer still around down-stream release management / fulfillment practices. Additionally, changes in funding models are literally non-existent. While many may argue that these scenarios are expected and constructively set the stage for focusing on changing these longer running disciplines, I see a different outcome emerging – Agile abandonment.
Increasingly these early adopters are asking if “going all the way” is even possible. Why? As it turns out, retooling development teams to embrace Scrum, XP, and related values and practices has become almost “routine” when you have the right coaching, training and Buttom-Up team support. But when organizations come to appreciate that Agile at the “local-level” does little to truly transform the global organization, the sobering truth around the full commitment of change comes into full-view. Because this truth wasn’t previously appreciated or expected, the reaction by executive leadership is not surprising. Often the comment I hear is some variation of “well, at least we fixed our development problem” or worse, I hear executives openly asking if perhaps rolling the clock back is a better strategy for moving forward. No, I’m not kidding.
What’s my point? Simple, Agile is at risk. Not today, not next week, but definitely over the next 24-36 months. I don’t say this for dramatic effect, but instead to stimulate constructive engagement with those in the Agile community who might otherwise continue to champion a belief that Agile organizational transformation can be effectively and sufficiently influenced by merely supporting Bottom-Up change. The outcomes I’m now observing clearly point to a need to support a co-joined leadership framework in which leaders with both broad scope (strategic / executive) and leaders with more narrow scope (tactical / team) work in full and equal partnership from day one to design a future together that drives large scale systemic and sustainable transformation.
In the coming weeks and months I will blog regularly on this topic and welcome your comments and collaboration. I’ll be sharing some ideas from our transformation team and their own work on Gear Flow, a framework we’ve conceived to help guide companies to an integrated leadership model for guiding both narrow and broad Agile and Lean transition. We hope as we share our ideas and invite your opinions that we will collectively better identify those core techniques and practices that will shift the Agile tide away from the unhealthy view that Bottom-Up is the only way.