My Agile Awakening – an Adventure towards Cultural Agility

About 6 years ago I first starting consciously noticing the Agile word coming up in many of my professional social feeds. I think it had been popping up before then, but the volume of its presence became more noticeable to me at this time. In total honesty the word scared me for several reasons.

Fear

I was afraid

The first reason was my fear of the unknown. I didn’t really know what it was, and I’ve always been someone who prides myself on being current and up to date on terms, approaches and the like. This was something I didn’t really know a lot about and what I did know added a secondary fear. I knew it was something from software development and back in the dark ages when I was a Mathematics undergrad student, I never got on well with my software development courses – I did what was required but it wasn’t the same comfort zone as the rest of my courses. Thirdly I have never wanted to be at the back of the line for something new, and I physically felt myself slipping back on this Agile thing! In reflection I was afraid of the unknown and yet I was also afraid of the known, or at least my known. Not a good place to start.

During 2013 my curiosity began to get the better of me. I was working at a location anchored in a traditional waterfall project management mindset, in fact they weren’t doing that very well, and I was frustrated by this among other things. So I started exploring and spent the next 12-18 months trying to get my head around this Agile thing that people were talking about. My rapid learning was fueled first by the musings of Jason Little and his Lean Change Agent book, then my mind double flipped with the 2015 Spark the Change Conference in Toronto, and a particular shout out to Riina Heldström who was at that Spark conference and made me ignite my mind to Agile beyond software and PM where she talked Agile HR and my thoughts raced through “of course, isn’t it bleeding obvious” through to “why am I stuck fighting against what is so f**ked up here”?

a gauntlet

the proverbial gauntlet

Anyone that knows me well, knows that this is throwing down the gauntlet to me. And my Agile adventure began. An accelerating learning curve over the last year or two has brought me to the place I’m at now. I’ve learned about elements of the practice, from scrums and huddles, to product-based ownership and customer centric drivers. I’ve learned how people practice it in a way that some think is wrong, and others think is right (isn’t this true for every business practice?) I connected my background and experience in the lean six sigma activity and operational excellence. I looked at the manifesto and then researched the multiple operational translations of the manifesto. I dug and dug until my brain was ready to go pop!

I discovered that there is a kind of hard Agile focused on project management, product development and all things connected to physical delivery. Then there is a softer, almost “agile agile” anchored in mindset, values and behaviours. This latter is where I emphatically gravitated, demonstrating agility in the workplace, with people and their thinking, no doubt heavily influenced by my change management background. I guess I would call it cultural agility in my head and I felt happy in this space.

Rich looking happy

I felt happy

I have continued my learning journey in Agile and discovered some really cool people with thoughts and ideas in the space – my thanks go to recent contributors Sarika Kharbanda and Evan Leybourne (do check out the Business Agility Institute) As with all disciplines, I’ve unfortunately found some people who have an arrogance about the practice – unless you have this cert or that qualification, you don’t know what you are talking about – but I’ve had that in every area I’ve been exposed to over time and let it slip by. I’m now reflecting on so much activity I’ve done over the years that has had an agile ethos about it, leadership styles, HR practices, business improvement activities, even my strong desire to only do what is needed, not what people would like… I think I’m a convert, I just don’t think I have a label for what I’ve converted to … I think I’m going to go with cultural agility as a label, for something I don’t think I really want to label.

2 replies
  1. Pia-Maria Thoren
    Pia-Maria Thoren says:

    Nice article about your journey 🙂 About “Cultural Agility”, i think you are right when you say that you don’t want to put a label on it – but at the same time, it says somehing about what you want to achieve: agility that permeats and sourrounds the whole organization and that will guide decisions and the way you communicate. So I think you should go with that term 🙂 – if you want to read more about how to create it I wrote a book where among other’s I have interviewed Riina Hellstrom. The book is called Agile People – a radical approach to HR and Managers (that leads to motivated employees) and can be bought at Amazon. Good luck!

    Reply

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