What an Agile Coach Can Learn from a Psychologist

IТve been recently thinking about popular Agile frameworks and approaches to Agile transformation. It seems to me that they are too mechanistic, and this seems to me one of the reasons why many organizational transformation processes fail.

IТve been recently thinking about popular Agile frameworks and approaches to Agile transformation. It seems to me that they are too mechanistic, and this seems to me one of the reasons why many organizational transformation processes fail. In my previous post I wrote about situations when changes cause too much pain in an organization, and this leads to the rejection of new processes (or their mutation).

A successful Agile transformation implies changing the culture, mindset and behavioral patterns. Psychology has been addressing the same problem (with a different goals and conditions) for quite a long time, so it probably has some things that we could adapt for transformational purposes.

In his book УCounseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in PracticeФ, Carl Rogers (one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century) provides a set of questions that a counselor should consider when working with client. These questions play key role in selecting the appropriate treatment. With a slight adaptation this questions can be used in the context of an Agile transformation to determine an approach to change.

Is the client under stress?

УOne of the first observations which the wise clinician will make is the extent to which the client is in a state of tension or stress.Ф Ч Rogers writes,- УCounseling can be of help only when there is a certain amount of psychological distress arising out of a condition of disequilibrium.Ф

Is this applicable in our situation? Definitely yes. If people in an organization are satisfied with the way things are, change will be perceived as some undesirable disturbance. This will create a very strong resistance to change, making it almost impossible. But if people feel that things are not as they want them to be, if they feel that something has to be done differently Ч such kind of stress can provide enough pain that will justify the stress that will be generated from the change itself.

УBasically the most accurate statement of this situation would seem to be that, before counseling can be effective, the tensions created by these conflicting desires and demands must be more painful to the individual than the pain and stress of finding a solution to the conflict.Ф That is why management scholars and smart executives emphasize the importance of cultivating a sense of urgency and dissatisfaction when starting a change. Dissatisfaction and urgency create the stress needed to justify (of even to make it desirable) pain of change.

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Is the Client Able to Cope with His Situation?

УIt is sometimes forgotten that any type of psychotherapy depends for its results on the assumption that if the individual is helped to reorient himself, to reorganize his attitudes in new patterns, he can meet his life adjustments more normally and with less strain, and can find healthy satisfactions in a socially approved manner.Ф

This question is very important for any Agile transformation process. If the organization youТre helping to transform is unable to cope with the new ways of working, it cannot transform. Imagine a team that customizes software developed by a large company. 98% of their customizations depend on some updates from company. The software manufacturer delivers these updates twice a year in large batches. So the team spends most of their time in an idle state, awaiting for the new update.

Can this team get any benefits from implementing a small batch release policy with 2 week iterations? Maybe, but most of iterations will be idle (with zero releases). So such a changes will lead to the frustration of team members, and will not create any benefits for the team or for the customer.

Other examples could be a component team working in a plan-driven environment doing Scrum. Of course they could get some benefits from improved collaboration and frequent planning, but this benefits will be limited by the fact that they have too much external dependencies to deliver every Sprint. In this case Scrum will probably bring too much overhead compared to benefits.

To be continued

Sergey Makarkin
Chief Program Manager 

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