OH MAURICE! My Response to Bob Galen

My friend and colleague Bob Galen has some feedback for me at his blog and on LinkedIn. Here’s my response.

Hello Bob. After re-reading it, I stand by my OP. Your response, however, suggests a more nuanced iteration may be helpful.

“First of all, IBM is certainly not a bastion of agile culture, thinking, and mindset. 😊 I also don’t think Mo’s experience with one client should serve as a general model for the rest of us.”

As you know, I’m a strong advocate of fit-for-purpose, Agnostic Agile. I agree that my experience should not serve as a general model for the rest of you. Whatever works is what you should do – assuming, of course, it’s rooted in Agile values and principles (see my InfoQ article on this). All I can tell you is what works for me. So, a more nuanced iteration of my OP – and I don’t remember what triggered it – should be less prescriptive. Thank you for this correction.

Second, a more nuanced iteration of the OP should reference more than my current IBM experience. Rather than “the most important thing I’ve learned at IBM…” it should read “the most important thing I’ve learned, serving more than 60 organizations, and continue learning at IBM…” Though, I’m now at IQVIA, as of today.

I started my career as a software developer for Boeing. And I love software, so it took me awhile to learn that my job was not software but Boeing. This learning was reinforced when I ran a PMO for GlaxoSmithKline: it’s never about the program but the business. And “show me results or I’ll show you the door” I learned first not at IBM but during my short stint as CIO for Health Decisions. It has worked well for me ever since as a “business agility” coach.

The point of my OP was that too many of us Agilists still have much to learn about the business. “Execs speak one and only one language: $$$” is the harsh reality, whether we like it or not. At least that’s my experience.

I agree that the best execs are polyglots, and I’ve worked with a few. But to teach anyone a second language, we necessarily begin by learning their first language, which enables us to do the hard work of translation. And I don’t think we’re compromising our Agile principles to do that.

Finally, to reiterate what I said in the OP: “Don’t mishear me; I’m all for all that ‘Agile’ means,” including culture, customers, people, quality, etc. Anyone familiar with my body of work knows my focus is connecting the dots between investment in “all that ‘Agile’ means” and business ROI. If we can’t do that, we won’t be on the team for long, because the name of the game is business, not Agile. Again, that’s the harsh reality, like it or not, in my experience.

The bottom line: I think we agree more than we disagree. Because I fully embrace the heart of your response: “I think there IS a third option that some of us are balanced across the two dimensions. And that we can artfully maintain that healthy balance. In fact, I believe the Agile Manifesto principles inspire us to have that balance as well.”

I always appreciate dialogue as an opportunity to learn and grow, especially from such a highly regarded friend and thought leader. Thank you, Bob, and I’d love to hear more about your experience translating Agile into executive-speak and connecting the dots to business outcomes.

Mo Hagar

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