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Transforming Without Agility

“If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” – Albert Einstein

So, what if you think of yourself as a change agent, but you also believe that you can’t really change people? If that is the case, what can you do to help organizations to change? The way I see it, there are two things we can effectively do:

  1. Help people articulate what they would like to do

  2. Help create the context where change can flourish

We can’t make people change. However we can help them voice what they want. Simply helping them to describe the outcomes that they want to achieve enables them to start down the path to meaningful change.

There are some relatively innocuous techniques like retrospectives that we can use to help people articulate their vision for what they would like to do. Introducing them is low effort and there is usually low resistance. You can even disguise a retrospective and call it a Post Mortem. Same thing, different name. Of course the real power in the retrospective is the action we take afterwards. This is our entry point to learning truly what matters to people and being there as a friend to help them achieve it. This enables us to further build trust within the group. Since we are frequently outsiders trying to influence change in an organization, beginning with retrospectives is a good place to start.

Often the way that we behave is a product of our own beliefs and the context or environment that we find ourselves in. Behavior tends to change when the context or the backdrop for that behavior changes. So if we want enable change, we can change their environment.

There are lots of ways to change the environment in subtle ways that help to introduce transparency and visibility. Putting architecture diagrams on the wall. Displaying schedules prominently. The simple act of displaying information – and doing it well, can start to enable a virtuous cycle of feedback.

At no point in this process do we need to use the word “agile” or concern ourselves with agility. We are simply taking the agile collaborative practices that we have learned to be effective and put them quietly and subtly to work for us on waterfall projects.

Over time, with a sustained and judicious use of these methods, we can help improve communication, create healthier environments and improve flow through the organization. All without ever once breathing the word, “Agile.”

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