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Reef Knot or Granny Knot

Lessons learned on the way to Agile adoption in the enterprise

21 December 2015

Rasmus Kaae

Many years ago, when I was a Boy Scout in my local division, we were taught how to light a fire, use a dagger or an ax, and how to tie a reef knot. Each skill was awarded with a badge to knit onto the uniform, which I still have in the attic. Just the other day when I was securing some loose items on the load of my trailer, I noticed that my reef knots have turned into granny knots. But hey, they still fulfill the goal of securing the rope and can be loosened fairly easy by a dagger or ultimately an ax (both come with a complementary Boy Scout badge). The important thing is that I get the job done. Objects are secured. Rope ends are tied.

Agility is referred to by everyone these days. It's a good thing. However, it is worrying that the perception of Agile is different depending on context. Just like the knot, the important thing to keep in mind is that the case is solved. Most business representatives with whom I have met truly believe that they are working in Agile, and that implementing end-to-end agility in an organization can be boiled down to a matter of fixing the IT department. IT must work faster and answer requirements changes faster.

In the higher management levels, the introduction of agility is perceived as a kind of silver bullet that magically generates satisfied customers and motivated, satisfied employees. Commonly, a manager's day entails overseeing budgets and defining detailed plans and status reports. Higher management often believes that introducing agility means that the IT department and business people will change their behavior so that they can deliver faster and create more value. They require dedication, openness, and focus from the IT department and business people.

On the bottom rung of the ladder is the common IT professional. He has been sent off to the Scrum training course, been given the latest software, and assigned a coach; now he must be Agile! When he looks at the hierarchical structure, he sees a management that performs tight follow-ups as a result of a detailed plan, while business people are standing in line to come up with scope changes and moving deadlines.

It sounds very negative, and it pretty much is. Many will actually see it as something botched that can be just as difficult to solve as loosening a granny knot without a knife or an ax. Sure, there are a myriad of solutions, but do you have the time and money to find them? At my workplace, for several years we have chosen internal Agile coaches to assist us with identifying challenges and strengthening cooperation. It is also possible to hire external or independent Agile coaches. However, the advantage of an internal Agile coach is that he or she has great insight into the internal teams and culture and has an internal network to draw from. By comparison, the disadvantage of an external Agile coach is that he or she does not have the extensive internal insight or a large internal network.

As an Agile coach in an organization that tries to loosen a granny knot the same way as you would a reef knot, I can only say that Scrum is part of the solution — the other part is the Agile Manifesto. It may sound trivial and like something you have heard 10 to 15 years ago, but it still remains a fact.

Over the past decade, we have tried to move a worldwide organization from thinking of IT development as a cost to the enterprise into something that delivers value. This has surely not been easy, and it’s still an ongoing transformation.
Before Continously moving target state
Yearly budget and project planning Continuous budget and project planning
Tight up-front project scope with detailed requirements Vision defined up front and scope defined continuously by a follow-the-money mindset
Contractual interaction with business representatives and customers Proxy-product owner setup with tight collaboration between IT and business representatives and customers
Big-bang implementation and demonstration of new features developed Periodical deployment with incremental and iterative demonstration of working software
Fixed project teams and governance hierachy per project Stable, high-performing teams with project deliveries in streams; several teams collaborating on delivering the entirety of the project

With the aid of both internal and external Agile coaches, we are able to address all levels of the hierarchy, pinpointing the pains as we see them. Some of them hurt while others make good sense. Many have learned that becoming Agile is not simply a matter of pointing at lower-ranking employees and telling them to run faster while having fun. In fact, it’s a matter of changing the mindset from top to bottom. This has been proven in our organization by having our top management CEO introducing agility as one of the core values for our 20,000+ employee worldwide organization.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.8 (4 ratings)


Tim Baffa, CSM, 12/21/2015 8:22:25 AM
Very well put Rasmus. So many Agile adoptions fall short because they are viewed solely as IT improvements, and not the top-down organizational transformations they need to be.
Rasmus Kaae, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 1/12/2016 1:39:21 AM
Thank you Tim. I totally agree. Enterprise transitions are often forgetting the end-to-end perspective.

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