Perfection is not a Requirement

Blog post
By Andy Jordan | 15 December 2017

I recently had an interesting conversation with a CEO of an organisation that was struggling with the concept of Agile expansion... 

His company had been using Agile as a software development methodology successfully for a number of years and in the last 18 months had begun to expand into other areas of IT.  That expansion was enjoying some success, but it was also running into a few challenges and there wasn’t yet clear evidence that Agile would work consistently in all IT areas.  He was now being pressured by his management team to allow them to expand Agile further into other business areas because of some of the potential advantages, and he was worried that the organisation wasn’t ready.

Expanding Agile beyond IT

This isn’t an uncommon scenario, and it’s a concern that is completely understandable.  However, I had a very simple question for this CEO – “are you confident that your waterfall projects are always as successful as they can be?”  The answer of course was no, the CEO was very aware of project execution problems that came with many initiatives delivered using traditional techniques.  The difference in the CEO’s mind was that they were at least dealing with known risks with waterfall, whereas he knew there were a lot of ‘unknown unknowns’ with Agile.  That’s fair, but there was also a lot of confidence in his management team that Agile presented some opportunities to improve project delivery, even if there was some uncertainty about how to optimise Agile execution.

This is a simple example of a common misperception with Agile.  There is no need for an organisation to perfect their Agile approach before looking for opportunities to leverage it elsewhere.  The very premise of Agile is that it isn’t focused on arbitrary processes and procedures, rather it allows the interaction of colleagues committed to a common goal to overcome the challenges they face.  This can’t be a ‘control free zone’, but it wasn’t in this example, there was a foundation of Agile awareness and experience.  It’s far better to improve Agile execution through practical application on real projects than to focus on perfecting Agile awareness through training and certification without any practical experience.

Are you ready for Agile?

Agile expansion should not begin with business critical projects, but then it may not be the best approach for many of those initiatives anyway.  There are plenty of smaller, more controllable projects that will allow teams to gain exposure to Agile, to make mistakes in a safe, low consequence environment, and to build confidence in what will, for many, be a very different working style.  That will go much further to ensuring long term Agile success than preventing Agile expansion from occurring because of a perceived lack of readiness.  All that will do is create a level of fear and apprehension in some employees, lowering any enthusiasm they have for Agile ad potentially creating barriers to future success.  It will also send a negative message to those already engaged in Agile that their performance is currently not good enough and that improvements are necessary.

The reality in today’s fast-paced world is that organisations don’t have the luxury of waiting for perfection.  With Agile the potential benefits can be achieved with much lower levels of understanding than with traditional techniques and organisations should look to leverage those benefits as soon as they possibly can.  Lower levels of understanding require closer monitoring and support, but that’s a low price to pay for the gains that can be achieved.

Andy Jordan is a thought leader for programme and project management and President of Roffensian Consulting Inc.


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