I spent time away from work to be with family on the Alabama coast, and I am glad to be back. Taking time away from projects is a healthy way to recharge and discover new perspectives mentally. Unfortunately, it creates a backlog of work that you need to sift through when you return to the office. While I was sorting through my e-mail to achieve the elusive inbox zero, it occurred to me agile is becoming more mainstream.
When I joined the reformation, 2009, it was composed of misfits and developers who saw the old way of doing things as needing significant change. Today, I talk with executives who ‘want’ agile. The secret of agile being a better way to manage complicated projects like software development is now public knowledge. As this information spreads, business leadership struggles to find people who can make it happen within their organizations. Today, I will discuss the struggle to find good and great agile professionals.
Speaking from my own experience, I had the zeal of a newly converted person and still look back at my embrace of agile as my “road to Damascus” moment. Early converts to agile and scrum were enthusiastic. We gained experience working as scrum masters, product owners, and developers. Now, we are looking for the next steps in our career training and leading others to be agile.
For business leaders new to agile, people in my cohort of agile practitioners are a large pool of labor, but the front-line scrum masters and product owners are scarce. The challenge is how do you find people to fill those roles. Often they have to train people internally or hire outsiders at a premium. The challenge is how do you find good people to fill those roles.
The first thing you must do is take an unflinching look at the organization’s culture. Is conformity valued over results or delivery? If it is, it will be hard finding internal scrum masters or software developers. Agile professionals are iconoclastic and have an entrepreneurial streak. Suppose the organization is crushing these traits out of the workforce. In that case, they will not spontaneously come to life because you rename a project manager or business analyst a scrum master after a two-day training course.
Like people who resolve to lose weight or quit drinking, an organization needs to take small and concrete steps to transform. The agile wannabe leaders must find scrum masters from outside the firm willing to buck the organizational status quo to get things done. It also means abandoning micromanagement, rewarding people willing to question established ways of doing things, and creating psychological safety so people can try new things and make mistakes. These are not easy things to do and could take years to complete successfully.
Where leaders have an advantage is recruiting product owners. There are plenty of people inside your organization with business knowledge and tenure. They are the people who know all the secrets in the organization, and they make perfect material for craft product owners. Before you send them off to training, make sure they are empowered to set priorities and say 'no' to others in the organization. Finally, make sure the new product owners are doing the job full-time. Product Ownership requires undivided attention to write stories, communicate with customers, and measure value delivered to the organization. If you expect them to handle accounts receivable while acting as a product owner for the new accounting system, you deserve failure. Pair these people up with an experienced scrum master or coach, and you have a recipe for success.
Finally, look for people who are stoic and realistic. The contemporary business world produces toxic people; either they are so optimistic it is alienating or so hostile they act like cancer on their work. Find people who are willing to look at a negative situation and say, “Wow, this is broken, might as well get started and fix it.” If you find people like this and place them in positions of responsibility, your ability to become agile has a reasonable chance of success. In the words of agile coach Michael de la Maza, “There are no solutions, just countermeasures.” Find people willing to implement those countermeasures.
Finding good talent will be a significant challenge as we attempt to rebuild the global economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Agile is not something you can buy off the shelf and magically implement at your organization. It will require organizational change, people willing to take risks, and finally, a commitment to being uncomfortable and hold oneself accountable.
Agile is not easy, and your first step on your journey is acknowledging that you need the right people to help you make the trip successfully.
Until next time.