Creating Your Organization’s Agile Culture
Culture is a combination of three things: how people treat each other, what people can discuss, and what the organization rewards.
Team 1 has a project manager who believes in collaboration. She encourages people to move work across the board, regardless of how many people it takes to finish a story. The team members joke around with each other, especially when they catch mistakes. They often say, “Mistakes are a form of early learning.” And team members recognize each other at their retrospectives using appreciations.
Team 1’s project manager has to supply a Gantt chart to her managers because the team is the only agile part of the organization. However, her management is beginning to understand how a collaborative approach to product development might help them in other ways.
Team 2 got sheep-dip learning about agile. Everyone went through the same course. It was a total of three hours and about a gazillion slides. Half the people slept through it because they couldn’t understand how it applied to them.
Still, Team 2 was excited about the move to agile. They started working collaboratively until one of the senior people, Tom, received his review.
Tom had always been at the top of the rankings. This time, he received an average raise and was told he needed to “do better.” What was the problem? He had spent time coaching other people on his team who didn’t know his specific areas of the code.
His manager was still rewarding people based on their specific contribution to the code base, not to the entire project. Tom decided to look for a new job—at a place where they really did have an agile culture.
It’s one thing to have an agile culture in your project, as Team 1 does. The team members all realize they are working toward being agile. They often ask, “What’s the smallest thing we can do to make progress on our project and to help the organization realize how powerful agile is?”
In comparison, Tom’s organization decided to "install" agile. They thought it was a simple matter of telling the technical team members what to do, and that would be it. It never occurred to the managers that much of what makes agile successful is the organizational culture.
What might you need to do at your organization to create your agile culture? Is it a question of how to make small changes—in the code or tests for the product, as well as the organizational culture—as often as possible?
Is it a question of creating education or training at all levels so everyone—including the managers—knows that agile is not just a project management framework? Too many managers believe agile is for projects and not for them, too.
Culture is not about intentions. Culture is what everyone sees with our actions: how people treat each other, what people can discuss, and what the organization rewards. What does your culture say?