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Courage, Risk & Punishment

Agile practice professionals are expected to be change agents. When an organization begins its Agile journey, there is almost always some low-hanging fruit available. These are small, safe changes that can provide significant benefits. These early wins are important for establishing confidence in the process.

No matter how much opportunity was available in the beginning, eventually, the easy stuff dries up. Continuing the journey presents two broad options:

  1. Make small, low-impact changes

  2. Make big, disruptive, high-impact changes

Most organizations continue to do both of these, but not in the same number. The organization can only absorb so many big changes. Consensus for big changes should be broad and enthusiastic. Even so, one person must ultimately become the official advocate for the initiative. The advocate is the person who communicates the idea outside the team and wins approval from leadership.

The advocate is also the person who takes on the personal risk of failure. In a command-and-control organization, we call this person the scapegoat. Everyone knows they will take the fall if things go horribly wrong. Some changes may even be more personal. People can change their own behavior under the assumption that it will lead to better outcomes.

Not knowing the outcome of change initiatives means there is an inherent risk of failure. Advocates own the courage for an uncertain future. As it is the job of Agile leaders to advocate for change, they are disproportionately the owners of the risk. Unfortunately, most organizations that start an Agile journey don’t have the maturity to avoid scapegoating when experiments go bad.

The larger the organization, the more entrenched the command-and-control architecture. Fear and intimidation always lurk below the surface

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