Ready for agile? A test for your organisation

I heard a tale of an agile coach who had a rule as follows: If an organization is using Internet Explorer version 6 then they are uncoachable (latest is version 11). This was based on his experience – he had never got anywhere with a company who was so far behind the curve. Adoption of Internet Explorer is an indicator of something about the organization that is directly related to their hunger to absorb new ideas about work (i.e. the agile revolution).

Adoption of new ideas is characterised by the technology adoption lifecycle shown below:

chasmcurveThis curve suggests that a small number of people/organisations leap on new technology.  The majority take some more time and a handful are really really slow to jump onboard. (See this fun 3 minute video of people dancing at a festival to get this).

Individuals who champion agile within large organisations are typically early adopters. The primary need of these individuals is to see that it works – ideally much better, not just a bit better than what went before. Well, agile really does work – much better than anything else we know of so far. So these people totally “get” agile.

Often these agile champions are bemused and confused by the pushback from their organisation when they try introducing agile ideas. This is because their organisation as a whole is not an early adopter of an agile approach. Their organisation is in the early majority, late majority or laggard category.

In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffery Moore suggests viewing individuals and organisations using this model leads to two insights:

  • Pick off a group at a time. Moore suggests its most effective to work the curve from left to right, targeting sales and marketing efforts at one group at a time. Once this group is on board, move to the group to the right. With agile adoption, we could say that the early adopters are on board and it is only now the early majority that should be in focus.
  • Early adopters and the early majority have different needs. This is the “chasm” which agile needs to cross. Early adopters care only whether agile works or not. They want to get ahead of the competition and don’t mind disruption to the organisation or an approach which is not perfect.  The early majority have other concerns – they are looking primarily for a productivity gain to their existing way of doing things and don’t want major disruption. They need to hear that others in their industry are adopting it. They want to be sure their “agile supplier” is a market leader with a good reputation and they feel comfortable if there is choice/competition between different suppliers/approaches. Above all they prize the stability and effectiveness of their organisation as it is today and want to minimise any rocking of the boat. They prefer a series of small  changes to one large bang  – unlike the the early adopter who are looking primarily for large step changes in performance (which normally implies a big bang).

So, to return to versions of Internet Explorer. Perhaps organisations who are, say, in the early majority for one thing, tend to be in the early majority for everything? If you organisation is a laggard with browser versions, it will also be a laggard with respect to agile adoption? What else might be correlated with this? I don’t have enough data to validate the test below (and it is culturally specific), but score your organisation anyway. Give yourself one point for each of the following:

  1. Green tea is available at the office.
  2. 360 degree feedback is the primary form of appraisal.
  3. You can get a new laptop within a day of requesting it.
  4. iPhones not Blackberrys.
  5. The corporate intranet is a Wiki, not Sharepoint.
  6. Free bowls of fruit available in the office.
  7. Guest wifi freely and easily available.
  8. Widespread use of open video technology (Skype, Google Hangouts, Facetime).
  9. A new access badge is issued within half a day of requesting it.
  10. Not using Internet Explorer 6!

Score as follows

  • Score 9-10: Your company is an early adopter and likely to already be doing agile!
  • Score 4-8: Your company is in the early majority. Fair chance of successful wide-scale agile adoption in the near-future.
  • Score 0-3:  Oh dear, your organisation is in the late majority or a laggard. Move to another company or wait  (possibly a long time). Agile is unlikely to take hold in your organisation any time soon.

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