They could not be helped.

I just got around to watching Josh Kerievsky’s talk, 10 Tips for Successful Agile Transitions.  He starts this talk with the tip, “You’ve got to do a readiness assessment,” and I think that’s incredibly good advice. He also says,

They should never, in a million years, have been doing Agile.  They were not ready for it…  They could not be helped.

Ouch! Are there really organizations that must be written off as hopeless?

I think not. I think a more accurate description is “We could not help them.” This is not such a bad admission. There may be many good reasons that we are not the person that can help the organization.

Maybe the solutions we know how to provide are not appropriate for the current state of the organization. Josh says this organization was not ready for Agile, and I believe him. But maybe they were ready for some improvements that would help them be ready for Agile in the future. In other words, perhaps Agilization was appropriate for the current context, but not yet an Agile Transition. Could we help them with that?

Maybe the current situation has impediments that we don’t know how to address. Josh says that they had “a newbie executive who didn’t have any connections within the organization.” Building those connections, and getting support and collaboration from the larger organization around the one you’re helping, is beyond the scope of an Agile Transition. Yet almost any transition needs some help in this area. Even an executive with good connections and considerable political skill is likely to need some help noticing things that are significant in terms of the transition, and help devising strategies to deal with these issues. Could we help the newbie executive make connections and learn how to work with the politics?

Maybe we could. Or maybe not, and it’s better for them to work with someone else. I’m happy to recommend someone else when a job is outside my range.

Of course, Josh knows the sweet spot of Industrial Logic. He’s learned to turn down work where he can’t help. I highly recommend listening to this talk. He’s got some great things to say.

3 Replies to “They could not be helped.”

  1. I believe you miss one reason for failure of transition.

    Of course the organization will fail if it isn’t ready to do so and then other approach can be chosen (e.g. small steps) – you’re right on that one.

    However it the reason can be that the organization doesn’t need that transition. We often fall in the trap of having the best answer for every question while there are many of them and each depends on specific situation. If there were a silver bullet only the “right” type of organization would be successful which isn’t true.

  2. Pawel, you’re quite right. If we have the answer before we understand the problem, then we’re guilty of “solution probleming” rather than problem solving.

    Agile is a great framework for analyzing a situation. So is Lean. They help you formulate good questions about the status quo. If you assume that either is the solution, however, then you’ll blind yourself to the needs of the situation.

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