Agile can scale, but can you?

Agile can scale, but can you?


…make critical choices about where to put your efforts and time…

Ideas can scale, software can scale, but, personally, you cannot. It’s imperative to your role, business and personal life that you make critical choices about where to put your efforts and time.

Agile software development is an idea about how to build software differently and it is a driving force for change, that scales, fast. There’s three fundamental forces to this: 1) organisation, 2) cadence, 3) recognition of debt. You can apply these forces to your personal scenario.

1) Organisation

The product of an organisation is reflective of its culture. You cannot build a superlative customer experience if your culture is sarcastic and backbiting. Your personal organisation is the same.

If you are constantly asking more of yourself, when you can’t scale, then what’s going to give? Quality. As the quality of your personal interactions collapses then those around you will start to compensate… the nightmare scenario is people that should get your quality time actively avoiding you.

What’s the answer? Organisation. Which means having a structure around you, personally, that’s tight enough for you to be in control when needed, but not so tight that you need to be everywhere, but cannot.

Building a great personal organisation can built on as few as three things:

  • Trust – “It trust you and here’s what I need in return”
  • Giving control to experts – “I’m not making that decision”
  • Cadence – the rhythm of the your personal organisation

2) Cadence

Cadence is best described as a rhythm, how things tick, but it’s not meant to be a dull, monotonous beat. Cadence is how you and the people around you find out what on earth is going on. Without it there is little chance of learning, moving ahead and changing.

Cadence consists, at a basic level, of:

  • R&R – Roles and responsibilities. Where do you sit? How and when does that change?
  • Monitoring – What are people saying to you and when? What does strong input look like for you and what’s not important right now?
  • Retrospective – Retrospectives are one of the most important and under used self-critical tools. It’s relatively simply to work out what could have gone better, but applying that to future action is the important part.

You’ll rapidly find that, if you set a personal rhythm that puts you, and others around you, in the position to have clarity. This, in turn will lead to the capability for support and positive criticism.

3) Recognition of debt

…if you are building up a gap between what your teams know and what you personally think you know… why not go work within them for three days?

Imagine your future self. You are organised, you have a cadence and you recognise changes that need to happen in the cycle of your day to day, so what’s the problem? It’s debt.

There will always be debt. Just look at the unread books on your Kindle, the bookmarked articles in your browser, the team conversations you missed in Slack, the instagram cake videos to watch…

The answer is, as always, that you cannot do it all. Trying to do so, as I said at the top, leads to a collapse in quality. You need to rationalise your personal intake and effort in order to deliver high quality results.

The recognition of this debt is very different from allocating time in advance. It’s about analysing the build up of debt and clearly ranking actions on that debt. Sure, 15 minutes on the train every morning will give you a grounding in Spanish vocabulary, but you might eventually decide to extend a business trip by three days and put it into practice on the ground.

Similarly, if you are building up a gap between what your teams know and what you personally think you know, and keep getting caught out in meetings, why not go work within them for three days? Get a direct input to clear the debt, OR, and this is valid too (see 1), above) give control to the experts.

Being agile does not need to mean being endlessly flexible, accommodating and available. It means being openly communicative, honest and sharing about your capacity to get things done, trust and expertise.

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