“Agile? Not for me. I don’t want to be told how to work”

Currently I’m working from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Possibly the most popular place for digital nomads in the world.

It’s not uncommon that I meet people here that are familiar with working Agile. After all, a lot of Western programmers and developers have their base in Chiang Mai.

The funny thing is: barely any of them has a good understanding of what Agile means (I still have to meet one that does). Even if they’ve been working in an “Agile way” for years.


A common misconception


So yesterday, I met a guy from Belarus. Nice guy. Software developer. Immediately knew what I was talking about when I mentioned that I’m helping people and organizations to work Agile.

He told me this: “Yes, I believe Agile has value for big corporations in some cases, but not for me. I don’t want to be told how to work.” Or, in other words: he doesn’t want someone else to tell him how to arrange his work processes. He wants to decide how to get the job done himself instead.

“Well”, I told him, “in that case you really have the wrong idea about what working Agile means”.


Agile: all about self-ownership


Instead of telling others how to work, the Agile mindset is all about giving ownership to teams of employees themselves. By letting them decide how to get the job done.

After all: they know best! Not the consultants, not the trainers and certainly not the management. Every team is unique, with their own unique individuals and work to be done. How they can get the work done in the best way depends on so many variables (company culture, available technology, team composition… just to name a few) that it’s impossible to let any framework decide on how to do that for them.

Moreover, your organization invests a lot of time and money in recruiting the best people. So the least you can do is trust in the qualities of those people, right?

If you can do that, not only will employees come up with awesome new ways to make their work processes — and processes for the organization at large — more effective and efficient, but they’ll be much happier as well!

Your employees become responsible for their own success. That’s more challenging for them, of course. But so much more rewarding!


The real problem


It’s a shame when a lot of people dismiss the Agile mindset, simply because they don’t have the right idea about it. But they can’t help it!

These misconceptions come from somewhere. And in this particular case, the real problem is how Agile usually gets introduced to teams of an organization.

It often goes a bit like this: management hears about Agile and they decide that it’s what they need in their organization as well. Then they hire some consultants to transform their organization, who subsequently tell the organization’s employees all about how they will have to change.

Did the employees ever ask for this? In most cases: no. Can this new way of working be of value to them? In most cases: yes, definitely! But why would they be excited? Suddenly, someone else comes to tell them how to do their job. They feel like everything was going just fine the way it was. They don’t want to change their way of working at all; they just want to do whatever they were hired for.


Bye bye, misconception


I believe that the answer to changing this misconception — and at the same time get more successful Agile transformations (because: less resistance) — is in communication.

Instead of making decisions for your teams, try to make them together. Establish different lines of communication: between teams, and management. Brainstorm about ideas. Listen to what goes well and what doesn’t. Make sure that everyone in your organization feels heard, and that the organization acts upon the suggestions of teams. After all: you trust in the value their ideas. You hired them for a reason.

And the key: do this before going Agile. Together, you’ll be able to get a better idea of what becoming Agile truly means and what will need to change in order for your entire organization to get there. That way, you’ll hopefully figure out that Agile is about giving ownership to your teams. As a result, your teams will be able to decide how they can best apply the Agile mindset in their unique situation and environment.

In the end, it’s all about trust and communication. Not for the Belarus guy though.

He made sure to get out of our conversation quickly as soon as the word ‘Agile’ came up. After all, it’s not for him.