Doing vs Being

Okay, I know I said that I was going to come back to Retrospectives and how to keep them from being repetitive. I’ve got a lot written about that and am trying to figure out how to shape that content. I promise I will come back to it. Soon.

Something that came up recently got me thinking, however.

I heard someone use the phrase “We do Agile…”
The rest of the sentence is irrelevant. This phrase says everything.

Like a lot of people, I have teams who are at varying levels of success with Scrum. Some teams are all in and it shows, where others are struggling. What hit me is that this phrase cuts right to the heart of the problem. Are we Agile, or are we merely “doing” Agile?

There is, clearly, a world of difference between these two.

When I heard someone say this, I started asking myself some questions:

  • Are we going through the motions of being Agile while simultaneously resisting the change that needs to happen to achieve real success?
  • Is there a perception that Agile is just a fad/phase?
  • Is there an understanding of what we are doing, or did someone just hit on a buzzword and decided that we needed to try this?
  • Do we have top-down support from executive leadership to change the culture?

In my case, I took this as an opportunity to start a conversation to gain an understanding of what the speaker meant, and if there was a coaching opportunity in front of me. There was, as it turned out. This person was never actually trained and just started doing what the Scrum Master said they had to do without a full appreciation of why it was all being done. A few minutes of conversation later, I could see the light starting to go on, and this person was starting to move away from doing and on to being.

I thought back to when the first Agile transformation I was a part of (see the first post here) and the reasons it failed so horribly. One of the key reasons (in hindsight) is that we were simply told “DO THIS” and we were now Agile, without actually getting us to understand WHY we were doing everything. It was an attempt to make Scrum a magic bullet that would automatically solve our problems for us just by doing all of the things. It was only when we stopped talking about the things and started to focus on the people that we started to have a real breakthrough. As we started introducing a new practice (actually re-introducing) we talked about why we wanted to do it and got an understanding from the team before we moved ahead. When the teams believed in what we were doing, the real transformation took place. We stopped just “doing Agile” and started to “BE Agile”

You absolutely have to do everything that is in the Agile framework your organization is using. That’s important. But the understanding of why it is important is what makes the true difference and makes your teams truly Agile.


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About Heath

Scrum Master. Software Engineer. Writer. Musician. Craft Beer Aficionado. Jeopardy! contestant. Not necessarily in that order.