Avoid an Agile Adoption that’s ‘Meh’

There are many ways to adopt Agile or Scrum.

And in a sense, it is true that each organization adopts agile in it’s own way.

One broad set of patterns is ‘bottom-up’.  This means that it starts with one team, who finds out about it and starts doing it, and then it spreads.  Without official approval at first, but with the ‘authorities’ not resisting it.  The ‘bottom’ then gets the ‘top’ to support it in some ways, and this can be a successful approach.

And another broad set of patterns is ‘top-down’.  The Leader decides ‘we will do agile’, and tells the group, perhaps in some detail.  This can work, to some degree, especially if the Leader has credibility and, in one way or another, explains what and particularly why.  And gets buy-in.  In that case, with time, it can be successful.   Why?  In my opinion, in large part because Agile justifies itself to people.  Once they try it, they see the results and become convinced.

However, the top-down implementations are ‘troubled.’  Often people feel forced. When forced they commonly, almost reliably, resist.  Even if only subconsciously.  Results are reduced, often quite notably.

They do not become engaged, they do not buy-in.  At least not as quickly as you want.  And, hence (at least IMO), the energy is not there, and so the adoption’s benefits are rather modest.  Often, People also slowly, in a sneaky way, start to revert back to what they want to do or are used to doing.  Perhaps they do it consciously, maybe even more they do it unconsciously.

There is a another method now, called Open Space Agility. One of the key ideas is that people are invited to make the change happen, and the attitude is ‘experimental.’  It is a crazy idea, but it treats people as if they are free knowledge workers.

This is not to say that the Leader cannot influence the people.  She can provide training and coaches.  She can employ ‘agile advocates’ and hire experienced ScrumMasters, etc, etc.  BUT, she does not mandate any specifics of Agile.  She sets a vision (‘let’s try Agile as defined in the Manifesto and the Principles, and do some experiments to see if that gets us some benefits”).

This approach allows people to engage.

In other words, it is an attempt to see what people will want to do.

At first, as a group, they do not understand agile.  Later, they do not fully understand agile or scrum.  So, I recommend some training on what agile is.  And some discussion within the group to use multiple methods to learn what lean-agile really is.  This is an on-going process.

Then the Leader ‘invites’ them to experiment and discover the benefits.

The adoption is no longer ‘forced’ or perceived as forced.  So, the natural resistance that can happen has no reason to happen.  (Well, perhaps a bit over-stated.  People can feel ‘pushed’ for almost no reason.)

By inviting them, you get them to start to buy-in. They are making a choice.  They feel like they are creating the change themselves.

And they all become part of the change.  It is their change, it is no longer just your change.

Here’s how it works.

1. Let’s try letting them volunteer within the context of a vision.  Practice, experiment, learn (much as Ohno suggests).

2. Let’s get them engaged in the change itself (partly via doing practical work).

3. Let’s bind these ‘chapters of learning’ (or chapters of change) in time boxes.  We call each time box a ‘rite of passage’.  Maybe 2-4 months.  After each time box, the group levels up. (“Level up’ is a gaming term…the basic idea is that the group has a sense of progress, and sense of taking the next step.)

4. We put a self-organizing event at either end of the time box. These are the ‘open spaces,’ that run according to open space rules.  1 day each.

Then rinse and repeat.

And include Steve Denning’s idea of leadership story-telling.  In fact, let everyone tell stories (they do anyway), but we (the good guys) tell MORE stories than we usually do. (We must!).

The culture changes.


I recommend this set of ideas (Open Space Agility).

Is OSA a necessary condition?  Hmmm, not sure.  Clearly it seems to be not good behavior to force people to do something they do not want to do.  I think that is happening now with Agile.  But will OSA along ‘make’ it happen?  Seems doubtful, alone.  But if done well, a key a useful step.

You may find this video of Harrison Owen interesting:


It’s about 14 minutes.

OSA is a practical and tested approach to ‘good’ agile adoption.

Who knew we could treat the people like people and self-organize the change within a vision?

This approach allows, as far as I know, you (as agile advocate) to do also almost every other ‘trick’ you were going to do.  But whenever you do,  do it with respect for the brains of the people you want to change.  Get them to see the merits.  Don’t think about ‘forcing’ it.

The Leader does not ‘mandate’ the change in detail.  That is, in OSA the Leader can give a vision (eg, at first “We want to experiment with agile methods to see if they will work with us”), but we urge you not to add too much detail to the vision.

And you (the leader or the group leader) can also offer details about things (like Scrum) that they might use.  Suggest that they *experiment with them.

So training, coaching, talking can still be used.  But in the context of invitation.

This allows the knowledge workers to have that autonomy that Peter Drucker and Danial Pink say is necessary for high productivity.  (Cf Danial Pink’s “Drive.”)

I recommend you consider this approach.  You will get more success.


Changing the culture is hard.  Use all the ammo you have.



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