The Vanity Practices and Tools of Agility

The Agile mindset isn’t optional to succeed the Agile transformation; it’s MANDATORY. The Agile mindset is a prerequisite for triggering any ounce of the transformation in the organization. That’s why companies that don’t succeed in switching to an Agile mindset, staying in the old managerial scheme, cultivating the status quo, promoting command and control over collaboration and autonomy are vowed to fail. They don’t really try to deploy an Agile transformation, they just impose practices because it seems that other companies do so, because these practices become standard of the industry. But actually, there isn’t any conviction. As Gunther Verheyen showed recently, all Agile efforts that these companies conduct are vowed to death because they are not backed up by a true desire of change. They are just supported by vanity practices that don’t stand the pass of time

all Agile efforts that these companies conduct are vowed to death because they are not backed up by a true desire of change. They are just supported by vanity practices that don’t stand the pass of time

Whether it is for deploying Agility or for any other worthy endeavors, the mindset drives everything and determines success. In his 2007 bestseller book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Carol Dweck already showed us that mindset is paramount for achieving progress in life. The mindset is the engine that guarantees we are willing to put in the necessary work, effort, focus, hours and dedication to succeed. Motivation comes with focus, perseverance, interest, repetition, and habits. And in face of boredom and adversity, only the growth mindset is able to push us to sustain the effort and to maintain the motivation.

Actually, Agile practices produce no effect when not supported by the mindset. They just become a dogmatic and unmastered approach dedicated to ending as the Cargo Cult Agilesyndrome. Practices and tools have nearly nothing to do with the success of an Agile transformation; if not supported by a strong mindset, their utilization inevitably leads to demotivation. It’s like giving a child a toy he doesn’t want to play with. Children play with toys because they are ways to entertain themselves, to discover, to grow. They don’t play with it for the vanity of having a toy. Toys are not an end in itself for children, they deserve an ambition: to be entertained, and ultimately joyful. In many cases, children don’t even need one to play. They naturally have the mindset of play and create powerful games by the sole force of their imagination. Their openness and curiosity allow them to always explore and discover new things, and they don’t need specific tools or practices for that.

When we use agile practices or tools only for the sake of it, it is vanity. Acting this way, our actions don’t foster any true ambition. Tools and practices usage just becomes an end in itself, generating only wasted time and resources.

When we use agile practices or tools only for the sake of it, it is vanity

In the same manner, iterations, inspection, and adaptation are only valuable when adopted in conjunction with an Agile mindset. Short iterations and its rituals are worth doing only when individuals understand the power behind Agility and are eager to spend their time relentlessly improving their way of working. When they are there, they got the Agile mindset.

It’s not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do.” said Deming decades ago. And well before him, Descartes in the introduction of the Discourse of Method said: “Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world […] it is not enough to have a good mind, but the key is to apply it well”.

Management must exemplify the change they want to see. They must internalize the Agile mindset and identify the right way of doing things. This requires a concrete effort; management must deeply learn and understand values and principles behind Agility. It’s not enough to merely understand practices and tools, management must put in the effort of training themselves to Agility if they want to exceed the level of pure vanity in the process of Agile transformation.

In the end, true cultural shift only comes with the adoption of a clear and determined mindset which triggers specific and targeted actions, practices, and methods that massively activate changes and challenge the status quo. It is the accumulation of knowledge and beliefs that initiate this movement, not superficial learning of some tips and tricks that we put the “agile practices” name on. Actually, we can’t commit to a cultural shift, we can only promote and cultivate its occurrence by learning and understanding the values behind it.

It is the accumulation of knowledge and beliefs that initiate this movement, not superficial learning of some tips and tricks that we put the “agile practices” name on.

What appears frustrating for those who believe in Agility is that it cannot be “mandated”. Agility is not a turnkey solution. Nothing worth comes easy, and that’s very true for Agility. The end result of a successful Agile transformation is a cultural shift, but it is the destination of a long and hard path, the result of a long introspection, a willingness to go outside the comfort zone, to challenge the status quo and to endure the hard pain of transformation.

Culture is not something that can be imposed. It’s as if we’d say that Basque or Corsican culture has been imposed at a certain point in time and that from that moment it hasn’t evolved. That’s wrong, the culture is the result of a long process of maturation with ideas, circumstances (economic, geographical, climatic,etc.), external influences, historical events molding the life values and principles of the inhabitants, and ultimately producing a unique culture. And the evolution never ends. The same process operates in companies and organizations.

History proves that when groups of people try to imitate the culture of others, it is always the beginning of the end. By adopting practices and habits that are not molded in their cultural soil, they quickly disappear. In the second part of the 20th century, Nauru tried to adopt a liberal economic scheme which obviously didn’t fit their culture. They adopted vanity practices, borrowed to countries like the United States or Australia, but they were not supported by their established way of living, their mindset, and their culture. And there wasn’t also no definite vision or determination for a cultural transformation. In 1974, the GDP of Nauru was the second in the world, just after Saudi Arabia. In 2015, their GDP was among one of the three lowest in the world. In a few years, the economy and culture were devastated. This story shows the colossal damages that vanity practices can generate.

Every time people use things they don’t master the ins and the outs, there are big risks. In companies, these risks are principally economic ones. But the meaning of work is also in danger. People can’t stand the pain of working without meaning for too long. When they don’t understand WHY they are doing such or such things, they lose their drive and their motivation. Stopping vanity practices is urgent. Let’s start now!

 

You can also find this post and others on my Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cbarrucq

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