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What Makes Agile Hard?

Watch Alex Cowan learn to what makes agile hard.
In this video, we’re going to take a brief look at, what is it about our individual nature that makes the practice of agile hard? Because the reality is, there’s nothing in this course that’s extremely difficult to understand. But as an individual, and when you work with groups of people, a lot of this stuff is really hard to do in practice. So one of the things that it’s important to just acknowledge for yourself and keep an eye on is that, our emotional wiring has evolved over the millennia. And for the longest time, it had to do with killing saber-toothed tigers and staying out of trouble, and things like that.
So even though now, being observant, being collaborative, getting ideas from other people and sharing them, and editing them together, is the optimal way to achieve valuable outcomes, it’s really not part of our normal emotional wiring. We have to train ourselves to do that, we have to practice to make it more comfortable. And it’s just important to acknowledge that reality, as you practice agile and continue to work through it.
One of the ways that this can go wrong is with user engagement. So going out and learning about your users and figuring out, what’s going to be valuable to them? As I work with teams to interpret, what does is mean for us to be design driven? What does it mean for us to achieve these human center designs using agile? One of the things I find is these two sort of anti-poles of failure. One is that where we say, well, the user tells us what to do and we just do it. So we’re user driven, but what happens is that, you just don’t know what they want.
You bring them back, the blue button they asked for, and it probably doesn’t solve the problem that they really had. And then the other anti-pole is that, we’re smart, our last product was successful, so we’re just going to do whatever we think is best. And the user, if they’re too stupid to like our product then, that’s their fault, well, in that for obvious reasons that doesn’t work either. So the reality is, narrative collaboration and the techniques you’re going to learn are what help get you there. And it’s a balance, and it’s depth on practicing these things that will get you there. Internal collaboration kind of suffers from a lot of the same kind of weird oscillation.
I mean, one is, nobody likes to be micromanaged, but sometimes that happens, and that’s bad, that demotivates people. No single project manager, no matter how skillful they are, can keep track of all the details and what the optimal decision is on an hour by hour basis. So, we need nice elevated views of what a good outcome is going to be to achieve this valuable outcomes. The other anti-pole is, hey, you do your thing, I’ll do my thing, we’re not going to worry about each other, and then we’ll patch this together at the end. And, that doesn’t work either. Collaboration is important, and it’s really the heart of what doing agile really means. Narrative collaboration, a culture of experimentation.
And so, we’re going to talk more about this but, we need to replace the certainty that, big long excessive plans to create with something equally structured, and that’s really a culture of experimentation of structure learning as we go along. And then finally, doing things in smaller durations, we talked about that earlier when we introduced the idea of an iteration. That’s very essential to actually making all this work. Now the way that these relate to each other is that, narrative collaboration allows us to keep our eye on what’s valuable to the user, and describe that in a way that’s understandable for the whole team. So we have these elevated goals on what constitutes a valuable outcome.
Do we always know how we’re going to deliver what’s valuable to the user? The reality is, we don’t. And it’s important to acknowledge that and develop a culture of experimentation. We’re going to try things, we’re going to instrument observation into our iterations. And we’re going to be very specific about how we will react to what we learn and what we’ll do next. And, If that sounds a little scary, the whole idea is to do this in small batches so that, we don’t go too far down the wrong road before we learn what we should have learned and go in a different direction.
It’s normal to want to measure your goals locally. So it’s not like Dayna did anything wrong, in the first case, where she decides, she has too much work to do, too many things that she’s obliged to, and she just finishes the blue buttons. And it’s important to not exhort people and criticize them for this. But instead, to focus on the positive things on how you create an environment, where people feel like they can come to you, and come to each other with these blue button questions. And that, you have the infrastructure available to go to alternatives and understand how you evaluate their success.
So in the next video, we’re going to look at, what that looks like in a team environment, and what the non agile version looks like versus the agile version. And we’ll begin to introduce some of the methods on how to transition you towards those agile outcomes.

In this video, Alex discusses what it is about our individual nature that makes the practice of agile hard. As you watch the video, reflect on some of the areas where you need practice or training to make yourself more comfortable using agile.

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