What I learned from the Agile Tour Toronto 2012

by Dave Marsh – Dave is an experienced Agile Coach and Practitioner. For more insight, please see Dave’s presentation on Agile for non-IT executives.

I attended the Agile Tour Toronto 2012 conference last Monday (Nov 26) and was struck by how many of the sessions focused on the organizational changes needed to truly succeed with agile or lean software development.  8 of the 24 sessions focused on agile- or lean-related change management and not on agile/lean practices!  This could be because the conference audience is familiar enough with the core concepts and practices, but in my opinion it simply reflects what the agile community has learned over the years: in most organizations, especially large ones, “Your Culture will Eat your Agile Strategy for Breakfast” (in the words of @MichaelSahota, who presented that very topic).

It’s good to see the agile community focus on this.  Over the years there has been a steady stream of novelty in software development process: from the “silver bullet” of object-orientation in the 90’s to myriad concepts including eXtreme Programming, SCRUM, Kanban and Lean Startup’s “Minimum Viable Product” that emerged over the past 20 years.  The pace of change is rapid!  Imagine the change fatigue that would result from trying to adopt these new ideas at the same rate they became “mainstream.”

My favourite session of the day was “Managing Resistance to Change”, presented by Jason Little and Andrew Annett.  Jason and Andrew first asserted that agile adoption/transformation are BIG CHANGES to organizations and then provided practical guidance on enabling people in the organization to respond effectively to the change.  I have never seen such effective use of models such as Myers-Briggs, the Satir Change Model, and my new favourite, the Fogg Behaviour Model.  Jason and Andrew’s description of their use of the Fogg model taught me to think about:

  • WHEN it is important to train/coach motivated people when change seems hard for them (by making the new techniques easier for them)
  • WHEN it is important to understand that people are not motivated to change, whether it is easy or hard for them to do (and find ways to motivate them)

Interestingly, there is now a Lean Startup-based concept of “Minimum Viable Change” being used to introduce the smallest change possible that will make a difference.

So people are learning that “turning an organization agile” is no small task and that it takes real insight and an inclusive approach to be successful.  Bravo!