Responding to change over following a plan

The double-edged sword of the Agile premise! In methodologies like Scrum, some short period of time is requested to allow “heads down” time on getting work done. In an absolute free-for-all, we are “responding to change” instead of following a plan, so is that “agile” or just chaos? Likely more the latter than the former.

The discipline of preparing requests or ideas with some context and having a conversation about the work to be done may seem like a low bar, but some organizations and individuals are so “responsive” that they lose all sense of coordination and cadence. A lot can be said about this potentially false dichotomy between responding to changes and following a plan, but a key element of an Agile approach will be some kind of alignment activity on some kind of cadence. The “plan” may have a lifespan of two weeks, one week, a day, an hour or less. Context is always the key.

While it’s problematic because of how misunderstood and misapplied this tenet is, it’s still relevant and valuable because we will often need to reconcile the need to plan (or make contracts) that include guesses and assumptions, some of which will be incorrect. In some cases, our plan will be so wrong or disrupted that it bears little resemblance to what happens in the end. In some cases, that’s a disaster, in some cases that’s a triumph.

The longer the time horizon goes, the more unknowns we have to account for, the more it becomes important to do the right kind of planning which builds in room to check our assumptions, a general focus on keeping our options open as long as possible.

However, agile practices not supported by good organizational planning to make resources available, keep people assigned to teams and coordinated, and generally providing the context for agile practices to thrive will be operating at an enormous disadvantage. Much more about this to come.