Here’s an interesting story about why many companies struggle applying agile methodology or methodologies – the roots of anti-agile.
Last month, I did the performance appraisal of Ellaine, a trainee hired fresh from college 6 months ago. Ellaine graduated from a prestigious, traditional, all-girls school run by Nuns who values academic excellence, moral values and religious teachings.
During the performance appraisal discussion,
Me: Ellaine, I want you to be more pro-active. I want you to take your own initiative and not wait for detailed instructions.
She looked a bit confused…
Me: Remember when I asked you to prepare the templates last week? You should have not waited for me to get it from you. Just email it to me the moment you are done.
She nodded but still with confusion. So, I told a couple more examples and explain how to be more pro-active.
Me: And do not be afraid to make mistakes.
She looked confused again…
Me: Remember when you made that mistake (cite example). I didn’t get mad afterwards, I just hope that you have learned your lessons and avoid doing the same mistakes again.
Still the same confusion… and I tried expounding more on my point.
Me: So, what other goals do you like to accomplish in the next 6 months.
Ellaine: I would like to do everything that was taught to us during the “Software Testing Training”. Currently, we’re only doing about 20% of what we’re taught.
Now, I’m the one confused…
Me: Well, you probably don’t have to do everything that was taught. Just pick the essential ones that are needed to ensure a high quality software.
I suddenly realized what is happening.
Ellaine being fresh from college is trained from traditional education. She is trained to memorize facts and formulas, trained to write down everything on the board, trained to recite, trained to obey rules, and trained to get punished for misbehaving.
So, I told her about the qualities needed to be more agile as opposed to what is taught in traditional education.
Me: You’ll need to break free from what the school has taught you for the past 16 years. At work, you need to understand what you are doing and more importantly, why you are doing them. You do not just follow instructions, you have to analyze and question them.
Ellaine (with a smile): Remember, when we have to file for 3 days leave to attend to our graduation practice. You suggested us not to attend because it is a complete waste of time, but still we attended and filed that leave… It is because we have been trained to obey. You are right, it is a complete waste of time, but it didn’t matter as long as we obey the rules.
Me: Well, you are no longer in school. From now on, I want you to think on your own. You are aware of our project goals, and you are responsible to achieve those goals.
We ended up our evaluation review, with a positive note: “Break that tradition!”
Unfortunately, many of the schools teach in a very traditional fashion where rules are unilaterally set by the teachers and everyone is expected to obey the rules. This is the root of anti-agile. This is why many companies struggle implementing Agile and why project managers are more effective than scrum masters. The team is trained on an educational system for 2 decades that is anti-agile and breaking that tradition is not easy.
Nevertheless, recognizing that the roots of anti-agile is due to the traditional education system is a good place to start. By simply acknowledging that work life is totally different than school life, applying agile practices will be much simpler.