One of the underlying principles of Agile and consequently areas of activity in an Agile transformation programme is Empowerment. I am a big driver of empowerment in my explanations and preferred implementations of Agile delivery – and it takes time.
There are two challenges – firstly encouraging people that have been micromanaged to step up and take decisions, secondly to encourage people, who until recently have been making decisions, to back off and at most facilitate team discussions to make those decisions.
Enabling those things to occur is a complex and difficult challenge but that isn’t the thrust of this post.
Assuming that this has occurred we now have a team of empowered professionals that are shaping their world and the delivery of their product. They are in some context – free. I have heard Agile referred to as, “developer emancipation”. The teams have gained their freedom and the natural passion this evokes in delivery can be related to the soaring of a bird or the breaching of a whale, an expression of joy within their environment.
But consider a caged bird – which sang happily in the cage, ignorant of what lay beyond, or of the feeling of the wind beneath it’s wings. If you set the bird free and encourage it to fly and fend for itself … it will never return to the cage; and if you do capture it and return it to the cage, will it sing as sweet?
There is a risk in a non-committed Agile adoption that if you develop genuine Agile culture in a team and then opt (for holistic organisational cohesive reasons) to roll back to a waterfall model, then you are forcing your now “free bird” back into the cage. It is one thing to have never had responsibility or freedom, but to have had it, and then had it taken away can crush the spirit.
Organisations when considering an Agile adoption need to be cognisant of the risks they are undertaking. The change involved is not simple or pain-free, rolling back may suit those that never embraced the values, but for those that did achieve it, rolling back will be even more destructive than the initial adoption. I would warn that those that have tasted freedom, will not accept confinement, and if the organisation cannot sustain, or compensate for it, then they may fly outside to freedom.