An Agile Tale – Destined to Fly

At what stage do you think a caterpillar knows it will one day be something else?

Even if it knows it is destined to transform, do you think it realizes that one day it will flutter over the same ground it currently crawls along, and that many will consider it the most beautiful of creatures amongst us?

Prior to starting an Agile Transformation / Implementation / Adoption, the organization reaches a point in its life where it understands that it too needs to transform, but nature can’t help the organization like it does the caterpillar, organizations’ need human guides.

These human guides are, well, human. Even though a few of us have been doing this for longer under different titles, the official role of “Agile Coach” has existed for less than 10 years and many who describe themselves as an Agile Coach have been doing this for less than 3 years. Nature has been helping caterpillars’ to transform into  butterflies for 50 million years; Agile Coaches / Consultants are not nature, and we do not have the trust of the organization in the way that nature has the complete trust of the caterpillar to help it transform and for its majesty to emerge.

The period in which the caterpillar is cocooned (chrysalis) and can last anything between 5 days and 1 year depending on the species of the caterpillar. This means that the period of transformation depends on what “type” you are. I think the variance is fascinating, 5 days to 1 year depending on what type you are, which means that it could take some 73 times longer to transform than others, and that is OK, it is not better, it is not worse, it is just a different type.

Organizations are always in a hurry. This is mostly led by fear and ignorance and it places an unnecessary constraint on the transformation. This unhelpful idea that transformation can happen quicker is reinforced by Agile Consultancies and Coaches who typically only pull the levers of price and time when competing in the Agile Services marketplace.

What if the caterpillar said to nature “I’m not going into that cocoon unless you can promise me I will be out in 2 weeks max”. Would nature agree to this?, of course not, as nature would know that what would emerge from the cocoon in the shorter time-frame would not be fully formed. It would not benefit the caterpillar if nature allowed this.

Is our definition of “Transform” perhaps the issue here and the fact we do not have a shared understanding of what that word means?

To Change is not to Transform. I can change my clothes, but I will not have transformed. I can wear the clothes and mimic the actions of a Buddhist monk, but this is still only change, it is not transformation. It is only when I learn something that affects my fundamental beliefs and values, which in turn then ripple through everything I hold as true that I will experience some sense of transformation.

Most Enterprise Transformations should actually be described as Enterprise Change programmes. They are doing the equivalent of changing their clothes – they look slicker and their processes fit them better, but they are not transformed and the benefit is not as impactful as it should be.

There is a fundamental piece of agile knowledge that doesn’t get talked about enough and the lack of focus on this is a key reason as to why transformations only result in change and not in transformation.

That fundamental missing truth is that the agile processes you buy are not the agile processes you need. They are incredibly useful, but they are only meant to be the first steps you take on the transformative journeys you are embarking on.

The methods that you do need in your organizations are your own methods, which are based in the wisdom of the Agile Principles and the collective wisdom of you and your people. No one knows your company and customers better than you do, you are the only ones that can design the right process for you.

Agile methods, are super simple. For example, if you look at a typical Scrum diagram, there’s not much there in terms of process, it’s not complex, and that is its beauty. Agile methods are so simple that when dropped into complex organizations, they ask the painful question of the existing culture and processes, “What is stopping you from running this simple process?”.

Their simplicity and the organizations’ inability to implement them surfaces dysfunctions that when addressed, reveal what our new process should be. Unfortunately, we often don’t truly address these dysfunctions. Some we do, but most we only tackle at the symptomatic level and not at the root. We limit our thinking by optimizing solutions towards the agile process we are implementing; and that is missing the point.

Be brave and inventive and define your own way forward. Until you start to create your own way, you will always be stuck in chrysalis and never achieve the power of flight. Inspect and Adapt means just that – adapt frequently and courageously through experimentation and make these processes yours, evolve beyond them, invent new ones, share them with us and move us all forwards.

Don’t limit yourselves by what you started with, or by what knowledge is available in the world today; do not limit your evolution and stay in the cocoon not realizing that it is your destiny to emerge from it and take flight. But you must not force yourself to emerge from the cocoon too early, yours could be one of those “types” that’s needs a bit longer and that does not make it bad or wrong, it is just your type (your type of organization will be determined by several factors such as size, geographical distribution, existing culture and current state of maturity).

If this is your type, the type to take longer than others, it is likely that your organization had a particularly dysfunctional culture to start with and was an extremely low trust environment. It takes time to rebuild trust when it has been lost for so long.

Start the journey with the aim of changing, and you may look different at the end; Start the journey with the intention of transforming, and you will learn to fly.

Begin to be now what you will be hereafter” William James

Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom, sharing it is the first step to humanity” Unknown

My Request: My belief, is that you knowing what I have shared with you here (and all messages written under the “Punk Agile” banner) will result in better transformations and increased happiness. If you found this helpful, I would be grateful if you could Share and / or Like this posting, so that the message can spread further, beyond my network and into the lives of others who could benefit from hearing this too – Thank you for sharing the knowledge

If you liked this, you may also like my other posting

Ash Sheikh
I think that organizational culture is broken and that it is our duty to mend and heal it for the sake of the people stuck within those dysfunctional, destructive systems. My mission is to help organizations to create humane environments which nurture and inspire so that we can unlock the potential of our people and increase happiness and engagement levels at work.