Agile Transformation Smells – No Clear Vision

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One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take?” she asked. “Where do you want to go?” was his response. “I don’t know,” Alice answered. “Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.” ~ Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)

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In Stephen Covey’s best selling book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People‘, he talks about “beginning with the end in mind,” a habit common amongst successful people from every walk of life.

Take Jeff Bezos for example: when he launched Amazon in 1995 it only sold books. But even then, he had a vision of the company one day becoming the No.1 e-commerce store for everything. Fast forward to today, and this week Amazon beat Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable listed company (current value = $796.8 billion). And along the way, it’s made Jeff the wealthiest man (according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index), with an estimated wealth of $137bn.

This demonstrates the fact that in order to increase the likelihood of success in any undertaking, it’s important to have a clear vision. That’s because a vision gives us meaningful and measurable outcomes to work towards. They help us create a roadmap towards an end destination, work out a strategy of how to get there, and overcome the inevitable obstacles we’re likely to face along the way.

Think about it: when you need to get home from somewhere, because you know what your end destination is, you know how to get there. Whether you’re walking or driving, you know what route to take. If you’re catching a bus, train, or combination of both, you know which ones to take, including where you need to get on, where to change, and where to get off. And even if there are disruptions on your normal route, because you are working towards a clear outcome of getting home, the chances are you will know or find alternative routes that will get you there.

In addition, a clearly communicated vision helps inspire, motivate and align people with the desired outcome. Like a North Star, it gives direction. Because as Warren Bennis once said: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

Not having a clear, shared vision for your Agile transformation is a recipe for failure. It demotivates, causes confusion and wastes time, money & energy.

It stinks.

Because aside from giving you direction, beginning with the end in mind will also help you define your strategy for getting there. For example, if your desired outcome is to create better quality software, you might consider introducing pair programming or automated testing into your development process. Alternatively, if your goal is to reduce the bottlenecks in your existing delivery process, you might opt for an Agile flow system like Kanban.

Vision is also important in helping us overcome obstacles. They motivate and give us a reason to continue in pursuit of our goals even when we do not feel like it. For example, I’ve found that most people don’t go to work just for the electronic or paper money they receive in return for their time. That’s because money has no intrinsic value in and of itself — you cannot eat or wear it. The true value of money comes from what it does for us (e.g. self-esteem, quality of life) or enables us to do (e.g. pay your mortgage, provide for your family, go on holiday, invest for the future, etc). It’s end goals like these that motivate us to get up, get dressed, and go to work on those cold, wet, dark mornings when all we want to do is stay wrapped up in our warm beds.

Similarly, it’s your vision that will help you overcome the inevitable obstacles and challenges you’re sure to encounter on your Agile transformation journey.

So begin with the end in mind!

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