Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Agile

Why Do Traditional Project Managers Hate Agile?

I recently hired into a project management group of mostly traditional lifecycle project managers. The group has a directive to transition the team to become agile. That’s why I’m here.

I’m also here to apply agile to the Phase III of a problem project, where Phase I and Phase II were mismanaged and the application is unstable. So much for traditional project management methods.

In the first month since I started: I setup JIRA, formally kicked off the project with the Steering Committee (we can still be agile in a waterfall world), provided 2 half day workshops for my business product owner and business team members, planned feature deliverables for six Epics over the next three quarters, planned and executed my first sprint. We are not in “Exploring,” we are in “Doing.”

I attend all the project manager team meetings. I participate in discussion. I even offered to train or coach any project manager interested in becoming more agile.

Last week, my boss tells me that another project manager needs help with an agile project, and he asked me if I’d be open to coaching him. Of course! Next day, my boss sends out an email giving him the green light to reach out. Nothing. A few days later, my boss asks me if that project manager contacted me, and I had to admit that I had not heard from him.

This morning, I’m sitting at my desk and another project manager comes up to me and says, “Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk and I was surprised to hear you talk dirty.” I smiled and asked him to explain. His reply saddened me and inspired me to write this post: “You know, I heard words like agile and scrum in your conversation.”

Whaaaaat?!

I get it. Everyone’s a little scared of change. People ignore or belittle things they don’t understand.

I get it. Agile is not only a new method of application development, it’s a new way of thinking.

But, as technical professionals, we must learn new things all the time to remain relevant in our jobs.

What makes learning and adopting agile different from everything else?

I don’t have one best answer, but my observations lead me to believe that if you really want your team to become more agile:

  • The desire to change must come from upper management and it must be embraced throughout the organization.
  • Everyone must be trained. Get good training, even coaching. It’s worth the money.
  • Rip off the bandaid and do it right. If you want to practice scrum, practice scrum. Every aspect. Don’t hybrid a method unless you’ve mastered it.
  • Start small, with teams that want to transition first. Find the early adopters. Use them as poster children for how amazing agile can be.
  • Integrate change management principles into the transition. I attended a webinar on this topic the other day, and it opened my eyes to new ideas about how to implement agile (topic for another blog post).

I can hear you thinking: That’s all fine and good, Cynthia, but what am I supposed to do? I’m just an individual contributor, the Scrum Master / Product Owner / Member of the Development Team.

I say: Walk your talk. Seek to understand. Lead by example.

  • Meet individually with those who resist and ask them how they feel about agile. Elicit honest feedback. Listen. Don’t judge or try to change their minds at this meeting. Afterwards, use that valuable feedback to figure out how to address concerns.
  • Ask those who are struggling if they’d like to observe you work with your scrum team.
  • Offer to coach those who have trouble shifting their mindset, writing stories, grooming stories and sprinting.
  • Help your team meet their sprint commitments, even if it means working outside your job description.
  • Deliver quality product to the customer more quickly than before, even if it means helping with testing.

Agile is a journey.

Retrospective ensures continuous improvement.
We can always make it better if we work together as a team.

Is that so different from anything else we do?

Don’t let negative experiences like the ones I describe sidetrack you.

Smile big and be the change you want to see in others.

I wrote this post to spark a discussion.
What are some techniques you employ to reduce resistance to adopting agile?

Cynthia Kahn

Cynthia Kahn
CynthiaK@gsd.guru  503.799.5500

5 Comments

  1. Ramesh CH says:

    Good insights…still I don’t see something ‘traditional’ across IT arena as we need to transform and stay current. As you rightly observed perhaps, traditional PMs (if there’re some:) might occasionally fall in love with emerging trends. Still they should tie the knot irrespective of their retrospection/obsession. I still find great value add-ons with this category as majority of them must have seen dawn-to-dusk hiccups in development and delivery journey, unlike their next gen folks. Thank You…you triggered my thought process 🙂

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  3. John Maguire says:

    Hi Cynthia,

    I’ve been struggling with this a lot myself in recent weeks. I work for a financial organisation going through a period of change both in terms of development & infrastructure on the IT side.

    My problem is that I have a team of developers who see themselves as Agile and, in fairness, work to the concept. However, the infrastructure work must be done in a waterfall fashion as it’s reasonably difficult to develop an iterative approach to building out a new Data Centre. Likewise the Financial side of the business do not wish to use Agile as they are linear thinkers and see business benefit in approaching things in a waterfall fashion.

    Now, as IT reports into the CFO (Waterfall), I’d value your insight into showing the benefit of Agile in this environment. I am meeting extreme resistance to changing to Agile in any area other than the one team and there is no chance of executive buy in.

    Any thoughts / insights greatly appreciated!

    • Cynthia Kahn says:

      Unfortunately, you cannot force agile onto another team as a peer. Support must come from upper management, because successful transition takes planning, training and coaching. We have several posts on the blog that can help you prepare for transition to agile once approved. Email me if you read the posts and have specific questions.