A few years back when I was a coach in an enterprise wide agile adoption program, I had my first head-on collision with a mandated agile assessment program. At that time, I decided to get all my thoughts into a drawing which I’ll show you here, unaltered from that time. You can see my view that assessments can be seen as either a burden imposed from above or as a supportive tool for the evolution of the team’s capability. You don’t have to read the text of the drawing, as I’ll cover each item below.
Let’s parse the Burden Side. This is where the two folks holding up the assessment say: ‘Feel awful we’re not good enough, and we’re not sure how to get there’
Hard to support in its entirety – a huge questionnaire may point out so many gaps in maturity and it leaves a team with the sense of overwhelm. We know that change does not happen all at once. It can’t. If unpaired with dialogue and a strategy for improvement, the assessment is of no use.
Not outcome oriented – an assessment is devaluing the business value/metric of what was delivered by examining predominantly the process/methodology by which that increment is delivered. That seems backwards. The delivery should be in support of the business outcomes – which is what should be measured.
Not Context Sensitive – one size evaluation fits all. Usually these types of assessments are not combined with narratives or qualitative interviews, and so we are assuming that we could be comparing like things via this numeric approach. We know large organizations host systems that are so wildly different from one another that forcing a like evaluation should never produce a side-by-side comparison. Yet, these assessments are used for just that, in many cases.
Misses mindset – the human element of change – the mindset shift that is so critical in causing an organization to change its way of working – is not elevated. Assessments will always miss mindset – there’s no way to codify that other than through storytelling, the vibe, the cooler talk, the openness and engagement that manifests in a healthy organization
Cognitive Overload – an assessment with a huge number of prompts will be immediately forgotten by those to whom it is administered.
Misunderstood as a Rating – even if the issuer of the assessment believes in their own positive intent, the teams having to take the assessment see it as a measurement. Measurements provoke a ranking system which is almost always seen as judgmental, evaluative, and unrelated to the needs that those in the improvement program have to actually improve
Appears as a Mandate – well no need to explain this one. It wouldn’t be a burden if the team had self-selected to take its own assessment, by choice!
Without Conversation, May Cause Misunderstanding – my head was in the sand when I wrote this- in fact I should have written ‘May’ as ‘Will’. There is nothing easy about working in an agile manner at first without support, leadership, love, hope, and belief in the people doing the work. Leaders and executives mandating assessments without having conversations and opening up channels of communication with those they are assessing are burying themselves in the myth of big data.
Let’s parse the Guiding Enabler Side – this is the side where the two folks standing on the strength of the assessment are saying ‘Now we know where we are heading’.
Supportive – we see the breadth and depth of what’s possible in an agile project and can use the ideas to self reflect on what improvement to make next.
Foundational – we can use the assessment framework to fully vest in the whole enchilada over time such that we don’t forget areas of improvement we might not initially consider. Without a foundation, each person may have their own pet improvement projects, but we need to vet all options and agree on the way forward together
Provides Focus Points – we don’t have to do everything at once. We pick a few related items to work on before we move to the next.
Used As a Launch Pad for Conversations – this means that we can take one assessment prompt and talk about what it will be like when we have that, what it will take to get us there, why kind of support we can ask for from each other and from management. We never shelve an assessment, we have conversations using it.
Agnostic As to How Assessed, by whom, when, with whom, for whom – it isn’t mandated. The team uses it voluntarily whenever they decide to use it. With great coaching and willing learners, and opt-in view, this can’t go wrong or be gamed
Understood as an Improvement Baseline – this means that we can track our progress over time if we choose to continue to look at the assessment as a means of self-reflection
Views Follow-up Support For Learning as Critical – everyone acknowledges that assessments are not the point, the learning that happens in-between is. Therefore, the surrounding organization should be happy to provide whatever is needed to help the team reach the next level
Can be Tailored-Narrowed to Context – we can choose to not focus on or even to not fill parts of the survey depending on where we want to focus energy. We want to eliminate waste, and that includes eliminating survey elements which don’t apply at a given time. They are there, but we don’t use them, for now.
Launches New Practices – for learners who love to create great products that meet client needs, the assessment is a way of reminding the team that we can do more, that we have a never ending supply of ideas, practices and experiments to address in our agile journey. The assessment can help launch those. That could be an exciting prospect.
What would you add to either side of this analysis?
I am VERY LUCKY to be an Agendashift partner, with an amazing Slack community where the challenges of coaching well are discussed very openly with a lot of mutual support.
Mike Burrows has developed the most wonderful Agendashift assessment tool that is used in exactly the way I describe above – it is supportive of generative discussions on how best to create a change strategy that is context sensitive. [If you are interested, let me know and I can help you get this launched in your organization]
In the Agendashift community of coaches, we teach coaches how to use Clean Language questions to explore the assessment prompts and what people would most like to work on next. It is a generative approach that builds on the energy already latent in the organization.
These assessments are not used to compare teams, or to provide executives a hands-off data driven view of their agile adoption progress.
This is an amazing community trying to shift the way agile transformations are initiated so that they may be truly transformative. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe when you are in an organization that wants to go in the other direction.
Thank you Mike, Suzanne, Jussi, Olivier, and Thorbjørn for your support last week! I am glad I remembered my old drawing!