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Going Agile Can Be Scary: Chapter Two

Risk is Scary…

More than a decade after my own transition to Agile and after having the privilege of watching other teams make their transitions to Agile as well – I have realized how scary it can be to take that first step into Agile development.

Why? Because Agile transitions typically occur in a moment of crisis or upheaval.

People reach out for something to help them out of their chaos. Agile typically arrives at a time when teams are over worked, stressed out, and pretty much struggling just to maintain their basic requirements. Taking time out of an already over-burdened schedule to learn something new seems like a risky endeavor.

Another thing we see: Agile is sometimes adopted at the beginning of a huge new project when process management becomes critical. Starting a huge new project is stressful, and applying a new methodology can feel like you’re only adding to your pile of stress.

A change in leadership can also bring a change in methodology. An organization acclimating to new leadership wonders how much things will change when they are asked to adopt Agile. It’s stressful to not know what the future holds.

Very rarely will I see a successful, productive, happy, thriving waterfall shop make the choice to go Agile.

When you decide to apply a new methodology – a whole new process in many cases – during a time when you’re already stressed out, that can feel like a risk.

Fear Slowly Fades…

stepsAgile adoption is a step process. First you learn the most basic aspects of Agile and your chosen methodology, and then you begin applying them.

You don’t need to be an Agile expert to begin.

In our Agile Foundations course, for example, we begin by teaching the basics of Agile – which are really only a set of principles and values. (“Agile” itself is not a process to follow.)

Next, we quickly go over a few of the most common Agile methodologies such as Scrum, XP, and Kanban.

We walk you through the beginning steps of your chosen methodology, and engage teams as they begin applying what they’ve learned to their own work load.

Before anyone realizes that they’re Agile, they’ve begun!

It’s a lot less painful than most people anticipate it to be.

But that first step? Well, that first step can be scary.

It’s less scary when you’re moving forward with experienced trainers and coaches. Call us today to discuss taking your first step. You’re going to ace this! We’ll show you how.

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Going Agile Can Be Scary: Chapter One


I vividly remember the first time I was introduced to Agile. I was working for Intuit at the time, building a new piece of finance software. The project was on schedule, but only because we were all working 12 hour days, and working 7 days per week.

working lateThe people I worked with – all great people – and I rarely spoke about anything but our project. When we left the office, it was to go home, see our families for a bit, then sit back down at a computer and continue working.

In hindsight, I suppose it felt a bit like treading water with a weight strapped to one foot and the other foot tied to the people I was working with. (When you take an hour on Sunday afternoon to go to the park with your kids and you spend the whole time on the phone putting out fires – you begin to understand what I mean by this.)

One day, our Project Manager (PM) walked into the conference room and plunked down a book. “We are doing Scrum.”, he announced.

We looked up with bleary eyes, half-ignoring him, waiting to be excused so we could go back to our desks and continue our daily grind.

PM said, “I have one of these books for each of you. I’ve highlighted the chapters I want you to read – do it today, because we’re starting this tomorrow.”

Our responses varied from hostility to disinterest to what could best be described as numb capitulation.  (Some of us had lost all of our fight by this time.  Any hope for “greatness” had been worn down by investing countless hours just to squeak by as “okay”.)

I’ll go ahead and admit that I was one of the people who responded with hostility.

We were barely able to get by as it was, and now PM wanted us to read some book and learn new terminology for things that already had perfectly good names?  (I didn’t understand at the time that test cases and user stories were actually different.)

The Agile Manifesto just about made my head explode.  “Responding to change over following a plan?  Now we’re going to build this massive product without a plan?!”

Honestly I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever been told to do.


We followed our PM into the Scrum process, slowly acclimating to the Agile principles and values.

I can’t really say this was something we embraced – it was more of a surrender at first.  Capitulating to the fact that we weren’t in charge, and accepting that we’d probably fail because we stopped working hard and started marching to a whole new tune.

Honestly at times I felt like Fred Flintstone walking into The Royal Order of the Water Buffalo.


One day, maybe even just a few weeks into our Agile journey, I looked up and realized that we were on schedule.  We were done at 4pm – ready to go home, and we were killing that extra hour by meeting for a beer or appetizers, talking, laughing, and bonding as a team.

These amazing, smart, funny people I worked with – they were my team now. My friends. We actually had time and bandwidth left over at the end of our work day to unwind and enjoy each other as individuals.

Our project drew attention from the Intuit offices in California as people saw our progress.  They wanted to know what we had done to achieve greatness.

And Agile grew.


I will never again work on a development project without implementing some form of Agile development.




[continue to chapter two]

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Agile Servant Leadership Assessment

Every agile book that you pick up discusses the topic of leadership on an agile team. One of the cornerstones of any successful agile implementation is the concept of servant leadership

Servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in “The Servant as Leader”, an essay that he first published in 1970.  The business dictionary defines Servant leaderships as:

Servant leadership stresses the importance of the role a leader plays as the steward of the resources of a business or other organization, and teaches leaders to serve others while still achieving the goals set forth by the business.

In fact, it is hard to imagine a successful team without self organization, accountability, and transparency.  Having Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and Managers with servant leader skills can make all the difference on your team’s journey.

If you are interested in applying Servant Leadership skills to agile-specific roles check out our courses page. 

In every agile implementation, I am asked, “How will I know who will make a good servant leader?”  My answer is always the same, “Everyone can be a servant leader – some people just may have to work at it a little more than others.” 

The next question I hear is, “What are the qualities of a servant leader?”

I have devised a simple test to help people identify servant leader qualities: 

Step 1

Write down the names of 4 leaders that you admire. These may be people at your current or previous jobs, community leaders, civic leaders, or anyone else that you look up to. 

Step 2

Write down 4 qualities that stand out for each of the leaders.   When you are done you should have 4 names with 4 qualities for each leader, for a total of 16 qualities.

Step 3

Choose and circle the top 4 qualities you think are the most important in a leader.

BAM! I will bet the top 4 qualities you have chosen are all qualities of a Servant Leader. Each of us already instinctually understands the qualities a Servant Leader must possess.  These are qualities we admire in other great leaders.  

Each person’s top qualities might be different, and that is ok.  This is a personal test to highlight the qualities we find the most important and the same qualities each of us are striving improve upon in our journey to become better leaders.  

So the answer to the question, “What are the qualities of a Servant Leader?” is this:  You already know what they are, you just need to look at the great leaders around you.

If you would like more information about leadership or to learn how One80 Services can help your company implement a Servant Leadership culture, check out our Agile Leadership or Leadership Conversation courses or contact us for more information.

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