Why Big Bosses Say They're Tired of Agile (or, The Scrum Speech After One Year)

20 May 2013

Sunil Upadhye
IDC Technologies Inc

In my journey from a small town and poor farmer family of India to the "Big B's (Bosses)" of the world's largest corporations, I've seen some strange behaviors.

Whenever I set up an Agile transformation workshop or an Agile center of excellence in any organization, eventually I have to listen to a special speech from directors, VPs, or CEOs. Initially people are excited about Agile, but after about a year or more, I hear pretty nasty comments from Big B's about Agile and Scrum.

Here are some strong comments I've had to face during my ten years of Agile journeying:

  • Agile doesn't save money.
  • Agile doesn't add value.
  • Show me real savings, don't just give me ideas. I want to reduce my cost from 144 million to 121 million within one year — can you do this with Agile?
  • Agile is BS.

I think there are several reasons for these attitudes:

There's resistance to giving up command and control. People in power are so used to the command-and-control mechanism that they just cannot accept a servant-leader role. They're not convinced, because what they're used to is such a pervasive structure in human society. Today's world is still far away from true servants such Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and their like. Leaders just do not want to serve; they want to be served through command.

They're not ready to pay for Agile. Agile is a return on investment. One has to invest in changing people's mind-sets, their tools, and the way offices and physical seating are designed in the organization. We need an open flow of continuous dialogue between the business and technical teams, since Agile is more about talking than writing.

People's minds aren't open. When the mind is closed, it doesn't work. We can't pour the water into a glass when the glass is full. These people in power feel like they know the universe. They're just not ready to accept the idea of keeping an open mind; what they keep is only one thought: Show me millions of dollars in savings, or else get that (Agile) garbage out.

Tradition is tradition. Since the inception of human society, someone has been a commander, a muscle man. In today's era of knowledge, that's a Big B in the wrong seat. However, it's very hard for a Scrum or Agile coach to get rid of the tradition of the strong top-down approach.

"Process is a must" is the mind-set. If we don't have a process for everything, we're not going to win. What is the added value of process after the fact?

"Someone should change, but not me." I find that these Big B's pass creating change on to someone else, rather than taking the responsibility to be agents of change themselves. They also want to command and control the person who is the change master.

"It's not possible to get great results." Big B's need to understand that most people who produce extraordinary results are the lowest or even the unpaid people. Example: Nelson Mandela was in jail for years and years, without contact with people, but he was still able to get millions of people moving — without any "power." You can get any results from any human being at any point of time in life. There are hundreds of examples of people who created extraordinary results for themselves and others — and we've never heard of most of them.

There's no acceptance of human costs. If we need to run an organization, it is human beings who do it. Humans see themselves as valuable. So if the Big B's need to run organizations with the help of human beings, that's a recurring cost that cannot be avoided and that lasts for the life of organization, until it shuts down. This cost can be made more rewarding only by transforming the human lives of that organization, unleashing the hidden and unlimited potential of every human being in it. In short, who created organizations? Human beings. And the creative genius of the human mind is unlimited.

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Comments

Glenn Smith, CSM, 5/22/2013 2:59:31 AM
The human costs are one of the hardest as the only way to count them are through proxy metrics. The others it's easier (but not necessarily easy) to count. It's why corporates generally don't invest in teams and make people's life easier (IMO) as you can not put a $ value on teamwork.
Kapil Dhawan, CSM,CSPO, 7/2/2013 6:10:41 AM
To adapt to any new process, one needs to learn how to unlearn. We need to come out of our comfort zone and look at our problems from a different angle and Agile/Scrum very well provides that.

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