The one thing you should stop saying to Agile teams

Let’s face it, Agile adoption is difficult. For people new to an Agile team, especially those who spent decades in the waterfall world, it takes time to adjust.

Agile teams

I’ve been on different types of Agile teams. Some were completely new to Agile, while others were advanced. As I’ve written in my post, the problems with SAFe, the real challenge with Agile adoption is the mindset.

It’s not the standups, retros or demos. That’s the easy part. The struggle is in improving collaboration, changing the way you think, and building trust.

If you are a manager, Scrum Master or coach, here’s the one thing you should never say to an Agile team: “This isn’t true Agile”.

I’ve heard this statement quite a bit, and I’m guilty of saying it myself.

Let’s take a look at the statement, and why you should never say this to an Agile team. What is “true Agile”? Is “true Agile” some destination that once you reach you’ve accomplished perfection among the eyes of the Agile Gods? Are there some absolute rules that dictate whether a team is “true Agile” or not?

I’ll tell you what “true Agile” is. It’s a unicorn. It doesn’t exist. It’s a mythical place we’ve made up in our mind due to insecurity. There is no true Agile and there are no absolute rules that say you’re either Agile or you’re not.

Here’s the problem. When you tell a team they are not “true Agile”, it sends the wrong message and makes them feel inferior. It’s demeaning and demotivating. Teams that hear they are not “true Agile” get frustrated and their confidence goes down.

Agile adoption is about progress, not perfection. If a team is doing their best to follow the principles, and following a framework, then they are an Agile team. The team should hold their head high and feel proud that they are Agile.

In Agile, it’s always about improving.  It’s the journey, not the destination. Listen to advanced Agile practitioners from places like Spotify or Google. They say that they are learning, changing and improving. They have humility.

Another way to think about it is with music. I’ve played guitar since I was little, and I’ve always loved music (who doesn’t?) If someone was new to learning guitar, and they loved playing but couldn’t play much due to their skill set, I would never say they weren’t a “true guitarist”. It’s not about being a “true guitarist”, it’s about making music. It’s the same with Agile teams, it’s about building valuable software, and continuing to improve.

About the Author: Mike MacIsaac is the owner and principal consultant for MacIsaac Consulting. Mike provides leadership as an IT Project and Program Manager as well as an Agile Scrum Master. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeMacIsaac or subscribe to Mike’s blog.



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  1. Aish

    Negative words or sentences rarely help, they demotivate. All good coaches encourage while subconsciously reorienting to harness strength.
    How about saying, ‘This is good, how about exploring other options’. This way you still let the team figure out with hints and when they realize a better way of doing things, it’s doubly motivating for the team.
    “I can’t teach you anything, I can only make you think.” Socrates.

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