In recent months, we see frequent discussions about different organisational cultures, if and how “Agile” fits these cultures, and, very prominently, which flavour of Agile (Scrum, XP, Kanban) might fit which culture… Yet is it really culture that’s influencing this choice?
Get A Grip
Guys, the question in the title is the wrong question. I see how we got there: we learned to develop software using a three-step-approach:
- Analyse the Problem
- Model the Solution
- Built (and occasionally test) the Solution
Most of us have stopped developing software this way (now rather using some feedback-driven approach like BDD and TDD) yet we didn’t stop thinking this way. Give us a problem, and we will analyse it and be happy with a model that comes up.
Fitting Agile into an organisation’s culture is no more likely to succeed than fitting TDD into waterfall. Or, to take another metaphor: no matter which flavour of coffee I take, if it does not wake me up, it doesn’t fit my definition of coffee.
Wake Them Up
In my opinion, Agile is meant to challenge the status quo. At least, my way of being Agile always ends up challenging the status quo… Organisational culture is part of the status quo and will be affected when you challenge it. So should you let the prominent culture influence your decision on which flavour of Agile to start with? No matter what you do, Kanban, Scrum, XP, your own combination of practices that work for you: you’re not agile if you do not continuously improve. Unless you challenge the status quo, the organisation will stay in the analytic (or even ad-hoc) mindset no matter how many post-its you put on the walls.
Challenge Mindset, Not Culture
You do not want to directly challenge the Culture anyway. Culture defines where people belong in an organisation. Challenge that and they are likely going to hit you. Challenge their mindset, their beliefs about how the world of work should actually work, their ability to adapt, their eagerness to learn, their grasp on the latent sharedpurpose of their organisation… Improve how the organisation respects people. Explain how complex adaptive systems work and why evolutionary leaps are driven by exaptation, not only adaptation.
Influence how people think, let them change how they work, and the culture will follow. Agile is a framework for change, and change never fits in. Let’s roll up our sleeves!
A big thank you to Bob Marshall for inspirations that went into this post and perfecting it with feedback!