I started working in IT in the 1990s. It was project work. I really enjoyed creating new software but I didn’t enjoy the latter part of each project where scope would change, testing would get squeezed and we wouldn’t release on time (or within budget). I did this for a few years, not knowing any other way.
In 2002, I took voluntary redundancy and went contracting. I started out on BAU (Business As Usual) work. I enjoyed delivering small changes, but missed creating software from scratch. It wasn’t until the mid 2000s that I encountered my first agile project.
I was instantly hooked. It all made so much more sense. Of course the way we were creating software before was flawed! This was much better. It was about embracing change, not pushing back on it. It was acknowledging we didn’t know exactly what the software would look like when we started building it. It was about speeding up the feedback loop so we don’t code something for months before realising that it doesn’t work. Like so many others at the time, I loved it, and learning this new way of working was a joy.
It wasn’t long before I was helping others to transform their ways of working from waterfall to agile. I was so keen. I wanted to help as many people as possible succeed in project work.
It was great fun.
Like me, there were so many other people (BAs, Testers, Developers) who just didn’t know about agile, or had not had the opportunity to work in such a way. This was the golden age of agile transformations. Where lots of people were keen to learn and wanted to succeed. Sure, there were the bureaucrats. The pen pushers. The Jobsworths. You know the type. People who are more concerned with following the process than getting things done. But there were enough great people around to make changing from Waterfall to Agile a genuine pleasure for a good few years.
Fast forward to now.
Now, everyone knows what Agile is. It’s been around in various incarnations for twenty or so years. People have had options for a long time. What this means, is that there are very few people who haven’t had the opportunity to try agile working, and make the switch if they enjoy it. This also means that the organisations who are still performing waterfall are left with all the bureaucrats.
The first line in the agile manifesto is “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. This is anathema to the bureaucrat. It’s tantamount to blasphemy. Trying to prize the process from the hands of a bureaucrat is like trying to pry The One Ring from the hands of Gollum.
Back in the day, of course you’d encounter the odd bureaucrat. But these days, that’s all that’s left. You’re tasked with the job of trying to enthuse people with something they hate with a passion. It’s like swimming against the tide with both hands tied behind your back and weighed down with bricks.
This is why, these days, I’m trying to steer clear of agile transformations. I love helping individuals and teams to achieve more. To find better ways of working that fit in with their organisations and the situations they’re in. But it’s no fun trying to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. Nowadays, I prefer to coach teams who have perhaps tried agile but haven’t got it quite right. Or teams that have started their journey and need a little help progressing further.
Sadly, there are still plenty of organisations who only perform waterfall projects, and I’d be more than happy to help them. But I’m not going to start until you’ve fired all the Gollums.