Agile isn’t fast (and it shouldn’t)

Lately I heard a remark along the lines of “…they are worried that with agile we are going to do less stuff” and I replied “It’s not a worry, it’s a certainty”.

It made me wonder about the relationships between speed, agility and consistency.

More and more often I find myself in situation where I feel the need to slow down agility.

I don’t think that going faster should be the goal of agile, but, if anything, maybe, a by-product.

I’m calling it slow agility. Being adaptable doesn’t always require being faster. There is too much fast agility for the sake of being fast out there.

My perception of a company’s speed has changed a lot over the years.

I built my first frame of reference in smaller companies, so obviously when I started working with larger companies I realized how quick we were in the smaller ones — and then, of course, I obviously expected to be even faster when I went back working for smaller companies after working for big ones…

As I did in-and-out from smaller to bigger companies and viceversa a few more times, my frame of reference switched immediately every time. “We are sooo slow”.

When I started working in the realm of agile coaching, facilitation and training, I had to build a new frame of reference for how long changing an organization’s way of working takes.

It wasn’t anymore about how fast we were with project or product delivery, but how much time we need in order to change the way we do things around here.

The answer is: forever. Literally, it’s just something you could work on forever. It’s not the kind of work that has an end.

So, while we try to be faster on our product delivery or decreasing our cycle times, the change in the way we work drags on, it just moves at a different speed and rhythm.

An exercise in meditation: imagine that you have to cross a highly trafficked highway with several lanes. You shouldn’t try to cross it without looking, hoping that cars will stop. They probably won’t. You’ll get hit by a car, or maybe more than one.

You are going to cross that road only by waiting for the occasional opening, one lane at a time, by observing the flow of traffic. It’s slow, but it’s safe, and you’ll eventually get on the other side of the road.

“We’ll get there, someday”, said no coach, no digital transformation manager, no CEO, ever.

When was the last time that you said “We have to slow this down”, and they heard you and they took you seriously?

Counter-intuitively, this thoughts about slowing down came to after watching this excellent talk titled “Lead with Speed” by Courtney Kissler. Because in order to get up to speed, you need to slow down.

You cannot compress reflection time. You can make learnings smaller and more frequent by shrinking experiments, but it still will take time to learn and figure out the big stuff.

You can do agile transformations upon agile transformations but unknown dependencies, capacity bottlenecks, conflicting priorities and budgetary constraints will always be there, waiting for you.

It’s going to take years anyway. If it’s something worth doing it’s going to take time to be fast, you cannot be fast by going just fast.

I urge you to do this experiment.

Pick something you think you need to be faster in or with.

Then do it slower.

Slower, I said.

Was it the end of the world?

What did you learn by slowing down?

From the field is a series of articles about conversations I have on the field with colleagues, clients and teams

Header photo by Nick Abrams on Unsplash