In Search of Agile

Mitch Malloy
Mitch Malloy

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a job description or been told about an incident where someone clearly misunderstood Agility. And if I’m completely honest with you (and myself), I’ve participated in the shock, dismay and talk surrounding such incidents. But I have a new perspective on this type of event that has only grown in my role as an Agile Coach: this is an opportunity to be a change advocate for Agile.

The fact that someone has a misconception about Agile demonstrates some level of interest in Agility. I can take a judgmental approach to their misunderstanding and find all the reasons why that person or group should know better, or I can take a more graceful approach and seek to understand the root cause. Is it because everyday demands have pushed people into old habits? Do they feel a pressure that’s generating anxiety, resulting in fear-based decision-making? Or perhaps their Agile training never graduated to understanding. Or maybe their understanding hasn’t evolved yet into a new habit of thinking. Perhaps it’s as simple as they don’t really want to understand but feel a need to pretend they embrace it. The root cause directs the appropriate solution.

As an Agile Coach, I’m constantly assessing how I should respond to the various antipatterns I see. Do I ignore them temporarily while I help people address higher impact issues? Or do I need to intervene, and if I need to confront the issue, how should I approach it?

I’ve learned that confronting each and every issue all the time demotivates. If I’m hyper-critical, then I’m breeding a hyper-critical environment, which cultivates fear. But if I only encourage good behavior, I’m not really mentoring others and leave them with a sense of anxiety about how they are really doing. To be a Servant-Leader, I need to serve others as well as lead them with humility and boldness. As a leader who serves, I must be mindful and proactive.

I suggest this is the calling of every Agile leader, and every Agile leader should expect to repeatedly encounter dysfunctional mindsets and behaviors. I also suggest that every Agilist is called to lead from where they’re at, regardless of hierarchy level or “position”. Every Agilist is a change advocate for a set of values and principles, regardless of where we happen to be in our individual journey.

An Agile leader is in search of Agile, not as a destination but as a journey, mentoring others in that same journey. I haven’t found Agile Utopia yet, and I honestly don’t know anyone who has. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth the journey. Those who embrace an Agile mindset and work collaboratively to refine Agile techniques find a more productive and more enjoyable journey than the people who remain stuck in less rewarding patterns. So if someone exhibits a misunderstanding, that’s an opportunity to engage a fellow traveler.

So when we discover a dysfunctional mindset in others (or in ourselves), we should ask the following questions:

  1. Is this something that requires an intervention?
  2. If not, how should I be mindful to enable a self-learning opportunity?
  3. If I need to intervene, how can I present this in a way that it can be best received?

When we are in search of Agile, we need to create the change we seek.