Agile and Agility, What a Successful Agile Transformation is and more —
In conversation with Valérie Wattelle and Hrishikesh Karekar. Transcript of the Insta live on 24th Feb 2023.
I teamed up with my dear friend Valérie Wattelle, an awesome agile coach from France, for an interesting Instagram live event on 24th Feb 2023. We ran into some technical difficulties, so the transcript is not verbatim but edited for brevity and also ease of reading. We had fun, and we look forward to more.
We talked about a few important things:
✅ What is the difference between agile and agility?
✅What a successful agile transformation means?
✅When agile does not make sense?
✅Some funny experiences on our agile journey
Hrishi: Hello Valerie, Good to have you here. We will probably start with a quick introduction of ourselves
Valérie: Thanks. Anything we say here has nothing to do with Capgemini, and these are our personal opinions. I work today as a Lead organization/agile coach, coaching a famous luxury retailer in Switzerland. I am also an executive coach specializing in leadership coaching.
Hrishi: Thanks. About myself. I am Hrishi. I have been leading large-scale [agile] transformations for more than 12 years now. I am based out of India and currently lead the Agile community at Capgemini India. As you said, the views are our own. It’s not representative of Capgemini. So with that, Valérie, we can begin our discussion. Let’s start with your views on the topic of agile or agility. So what is the difference to you?
Valérie: Yeah, it’s eternal chicken and egg question. The general understanding is that agile is “doing agile” and agility is “being agile”. The difference is a mystery, I find. It may be that agile is actually in all the actions that you have, the outcomes and so on. Whereas the word agility is the result. And it often gets associated with doing agile right.
Hrishi: When they have the opportunity to actually be agile, good in terms of agility, but their obsession with only practices limits them. What can we do about that?
Valérie: Yes, I would say that the obsession with practice is a good one because you have to do agile to become agile. But if you do it without understanding the intention, it is meaningless. In any discipline, it is the same. You repeat a gesture, and it becomes a habit. Gradually this will grow into an understanding. Hopefully! Because if you do something without understanding, eventually, you will get tired of it because it doesn’t make sense or it doesn’t add value. It may linger in some organizations who actually continue to do useless things with no value. Organizations that are not supposed to be agile may do the opposite and stop. Who’s got it right? Anyhow, in anything one does to become agile, it is agility in a way when the person seeks the intention of that practice. And I think that because, for me, Agile is a discipline. What do you think?
Hrishi: I think you describe it very rightly — give meaning to [the] practice. Otherwise, you don’t even know what you are doing it for. If you just want to run for the sake of it but are not focused, you will soon get tired. But if you are doing it for a particular objective, you want to lose weight, you want to stay fit, something right, something the bigger motivation that drives you to that practice, then it is better. Then you have more sustainability in practice.
Valérie: Exactly. How do you find it sustainable? How do you find that they get sustainability in the real world?
Hrishi: Yes, unless people really push themselves. The commitment does not come until people really understand the why. Otherwise, it’s just because somebody else has told them to do it, they are doing it’s not really coming from their heart, or they don’t see the impact for themselves.
Valérie: Okay, great. That tackles ownership and inner motivation.
Hrishi: Given that you have experience with so many different varieties of customers without naming the customer’s name, what has been your best agile experience so far?
Valérie: The best one?
Valérie: Actually, for a customer, my role was to put the agile practices and the agile mindset to the executive team first. Once the executive team understands, I feel that the job is done. It’s very, so very easy to get the others to follow and to execute when actually the sponsors of the company understand why you’re doing it and practice it themselves. And it’s a relief to see this because, in many cases, management wants agile for everyone but themselves.
Hrishi: So then, what do you think was different in this engagement compared to the rest? The leadership. Why was the leadership different?
Valérie: Agility is working with each other, not working for one another. And the fact is, the first thing is the leadership was okay, we’re partners, we’re getting to the leadership, the CXOs with the correct why: Why we want it? Because it’s useful. So how can we implement it together? Instead of having the posture where the leadership tells you how can you implement it? We ask, how can you support us in implementing, which is not exactly the same as how can we team up to implement? I believe that the partnership approach made the difference: working together rather than working for one another. What good and bad experiences have you had?
Hrishi: I have had several good and several bad experiences. I worked with one leader who had a lot of background in Lean and other things, especially with the theory of constraints. When we started to implement agile in his project, he was quite skeptical. This was very early, like almost seven or eight years ago, but he took it as a challenge. He would not just take something from agile because we are asking him to do this or just because it is written in the book. And this meant that we were really explaining, debating, and thinking about each and every practice we did, why we were doing it and so on.
Hrishi: And at the end of it, we had a very good implementation; as you said, there was no practice implemented without understanding the why. Even things like daily, we would have debates with him and his team about why we were doing it, how it helps and how to do it. The right way and so on, that really resulted in implementation which was very strong and change that really stuck. It was not just something which we did, and then when the coaches went away, people just forgot. They really adopted things in a very good way. That was my experience.
Valérie: If you had to define based on your experience what good implementation means, what would you say?
Hrishi: Good implementation for me always has been whatever outcomes that you want; you are achieving those. So, I’ll give you an example. In my previous company, one of the big goals, and that’s the case study I have on the SAFe website, that was one of the goals. The goal was to move from a cycle time of about two years to eight months or nine months for large implementations. So that is the goal; whatever you are doing to achieve that is agile, right? So we did a lot of practices, we did technology changes, and so on, and all of that resulted in that goal being achieved. I think that is what a good implementation would mean. At the end of a two-year cycle or three-year cycle. If I have all the practices, but I am still where I was in terms of outcomes three years ago, then it is not a good implementation, however beautiful the practices we might have.
Valérie: Yeah, it’s like martial arts. Like if you could do a beautiful gesture, but it doesn’t hit the other person; it’s not really efficient. Then it’s just [a] dance; it’s not martial arts. I think it’s the same for agility. I would say what you do, doesn’t have any impact, however beautiful it is, but nobody benefits from it. Then you’ve just lost your time and the client’s time. Honestly, the point is not agility; the point is the purpose and efficiency — in the client’s environment, in the delivery environment, even when it’s a transformation, there’s always some kind of delivery attached. So the master is success, and the servant is agile, and it’s even imbibed in the agile values. We say working software over documentation; we need to apply it to ourselves as coaches.
Valérie: So, have you had any funny experiences with agile?
Hrishi: This was back in 2013, 2012 actually, and one of my friends and I went to our customers, this was internal to the company, to talk about agile. Agile was very new to the company. So when I went, he was in the office in his location, and I was in the office in my location. We were talking to stakeholders; it was a joint video conference meeting. After letting us speak for about 10 mins, they literally asked us to go. Take your agile and leave — Thank you very much, they said. It feels funny now, and they did call us again a few years later.
Valérie: I feel sorry about what happened to you. And I’m sure sometimes we need to take a risk, and sometimes success doesn’t come immediately as you said if they’re not ready. I think as a coach, you should have less ego. You will try again, try the door, try the window, try on the floor, try waiting, try different things. And I think that’s really something valuable that you’re sharing in our job. We need to set aside our egos and try to be useful and innovative. So the moment is not as exciting probably as yours, but I had this big boss with a big fancy meeting. I was quite junior at the time, not so junior, but more than today. I had to present some agile approaches to the big boss.
Valérie: It was an important scene, and everyone was stressed. And you see, when they’re stressed, consultants tend to do a full big deck of slides. I was presenting and went directly to the 20th slide and said you don’t need our introductions; what you want is this — the content on the 20th slide. There was a small banter in the room asking me to go back to the 1st slide since we “do” want your introductions. And finally, one of the big bosses said — no, she is right, I just want this one [the 20th slide]. That’s where the value is.
Hrishi: Yeah, these incidents happen, and they’re so good to remember; they make a smile [years later]
Valérie: What I remember from this is that whether it's sales or in any meeting with the clients, it’s about their needs first. And being agile in a meeting is about questioning the needs, questioning the product, and not about showing our capacity to deliver, right? It’s about what the customer wants, not what we can do.
Hrishi: Absolutely. I think that is very important — focus on what the end goal is. I always think about the job-to-be-done framework. What is my job to be done? That helps to bring clarity.
Valérie: Have you found any situation where you found that agile was not desirable or the incorrect approach?
Hrishi: It’s not a choice between agile or not agile, in my view. It’s a choice between what kind of practices or approaches are needed in this context versus that context. For example, there will be places where Sprint planning does not make sense, right? Because everything is really decided. The product is almost coming to the end of its lifecycle, and there is not really much to discuss because the funding has actually been stopped. And there are a couple of people who are just doing work on the defects and so on. There is no big value in doing Sprint planning but still does it does not need to be a traditional [heavy] process. They can still use daily scrum. Okay? It’s the choice between practices. And not between agile and not agile.
Valérie: It brings us to the end of this one. This was not bad for the first time though we faced several technical difficulties.
Hrishi: Absolutely. This was our MVP, and it worked well. Looking forward to many in the days to come.
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