By Jose Casal
There are four key words in the first value of the Agile Manifesto:
“Individuals and their interactions over processes and tools”
Most of us can spend countless hours debating the value of focusing on people and the dangers related to focusing on processes and tools.
Interestingly, in our debates we seem to be oblivious to the reference to interactions and what it truly means to social and tribal animals as we, humans, are. It seems to be an almost-superfluous addition to the value. However, its place there is fully justified.
We often describe these interactions as the way we collaborate, the bonds we create and the relationships we establish. Those are the obvious ones. Interactions also cover the hopes and dreams we share, our common goals, our fears, the taboos that shall not be talked about, our values and beliefs, the way we communicate and, because of that, the language we use.
I think we often do rather poorly with these more elusive and intangible ones.
Why does language matter?
In ‘Opening minds‘, A. Neus and P. Scherf defined the Culture of an organisation as follows:
Culture is a complex system of shared beliefs, values, language, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of a group use to cope with their environment and with one another.
So language is a core aspect of what constitutes your culture and, as Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Failing to understand and address the culture of the organisation is a significant cause for failure in Agile Transformations.
Why is this? First of all, because transformations are often of such magnitude that they are likely to fail. We naïvely believe that Agile is just going to work, but fail to consider what a monumental task it is to shift a massive iceberg such as our organisational culture. So, we end up touching the surface only. In effect, we limit our activities to changing the processes (picking a method), roles (new job titles) and tools. Exactly what the manifesto advises us not to do.
Secondly, it is because we don’t tackle the cultural aspects (*) that we struggle to achieve a long-lasting change. And in this, I place a lot of emphasis to the language we use.
(*) We may do this in parts of the organisation (such as delivery teams) and that’s likely to create local optimas, but that’s a different blog post…
Change the language
By now, it should be clear that Agility is a mindset. A mindset that is required (yes, required!) for working in complex systems such as knowledge work is.
By continuing to use the language of more traditional ways of working, we are sustaining the culture that is associated to it and we must end this now if we want to have a chance to succeed.
Every time we use the word resource to refer to people. Every time we refer to being on time, on cost or on scope rather that focusing on their equivalent principles for complexity of flow, value …read more
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