Ambiguity in Agile

When major change appears our first inclination is not to look at the benefits of the change from an organizational perspective. We have more important concerns! What does it mean to me? Many of us need to get comfortable with this aspect first before we consider the merits of change for the overall organization. At work the management team has concluded if we truly want to excel as an Agile organization we need to evolve. Not everyone shares this view. Naturally, talk of this nature tends to freak people out. Many are unconvinced that further change is necessary.

Although many are skeptical about it’s benefits I remain convinced that Agile can really help us become a better R&D organization. In a recent post I discussed the competence compulsion and the paradox that when we are in learning mode we don’t perform: Yet without upgrading our skills we are doomed to obsolescence. An Agile transition is a great example of the challenges an organization can face in this regard. Think about the primary reasons for performance problems Gervaise Bushe identifies  in his book Clear leadership:

  1. The employee is unclear on what is expected in their role. (Role\objective clarity)
  2. The employee doesn’t know how to do what is expected of them. (Competence)
  3. The employee doesn’t want to do what is expected of them. (Motivation)
  4. The employee doesn’t have the information, tools or resources to do what is expected of them. (Infrastructure)

Before I review these, I’d like to give the readers some context about my work environment. I am part of a team (approximately) one year into our agile transition. We have accomplished a lot but there is more to do. I’ll speak to my personal experience with the transition to date.

  1. As a QA manager I am often unclear how best to contribute to the team in our new Agile organization. I am responsible for Quality yet have little influence on many decisions that are made that pertain to quality.  I find it difficult to know when to intervene or when I am interfering. I know many employees experience similar anxiety performing their roles due to ambiguity in decision-making, roles and responsibilities. Sometimes managers and employees long for the good old days when managers just made decisions!
  2. Agile is also a game changer in terms of how we test the product and manage the project.  The waterfall methodology and the command and control hierarchical organizational structure appeared to make it easier to ensure that quality was adhered to from a QA manager’s perspective. If I was dissatisfied I could refuse to accept a build or request additional time to ensure that the code was stable. This responsibility now resides in the sprint teams where it belongs. My role now is much more about being a quality advocate and evangelist. Please know that I believe delegating responsibility for quality to the team is a better approach.
  3. The reality is that some people do not enjoy the greater visibility, accountability and teamwork  necessary in agile. If an employee makes the choice not to participate productively in a team, managers must make the tough calls and remove people who become roadblocks to the organization. This is stressful for all concerned.
  4. Employees feel they are setup to fail when they don’t have access to the appropriate tools or have the proper training to perform their roles effectively. We invested in a new software designed specifically for agile development called VersionOne.  The software was an impediment to performance until staff learned how to use it. I often wonder whether we are truly leveraging VersionOne to its truest potential. I propose we hire an agile coach to join the organization full time to facilitate our change effort; someone experienced and credible to advise rather than direct the teams on the fundamentals of agile.

I highlight how the changes have impacted me not to complain but to demonstrate the new demands of my role.  My perception is that employees often wonder why managers make so many changes. Let me ask, how often do you consider the impact of the changes on your boss? The chances are they were impacted significantly as well. As a manager I would love to be able to convince my team that I feel their pain.  I don’t enjoy the constant disruption in our professional environment either!

Why am I willingly sign up for more change then? I believe I can influence future of my organization in the pending re-org. I also realize the more I develop my skill-set and capacity to change  the more likely I am to succeed in future roles. With change comes opportunity for those willing to take risks. Those perceived to be flexible and willing to assume new roles are also likely to enjoy more employment security……..

2 responses

  1. Are you happy with VersionOne now? We are migrating to it in our company right now as well (based on your recommendation of the software). So far I really like it, but am slowly introducing it to the entire company.

    Great points about managing change and the short term pain this involves. Continuing to evolve processes is so important so that the organization doesn’t make the same mistakes over and over.

  2. Hi Dylan,

    Thanks for checking out my blog and posting your comments online. I still stand by my recommendation. I think they have a great product. Their staff are very willing to assist when needed. My main concern as a user is the reporting is not very intuitive. I don’t understand what a lot of the reports are telling me. My sense is that we will get even more out of the software over time when we get more comfortable with the feature set. In the most current release they significantly improved their functionality around QA.


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