Blog: What Problem Are You Trying to Solve by Going Agile?

What Problem Are You Trying to Solve by Going Agile?

If there is one thing that those who work with me get tired of hearing me say, it is the constant question, “what problem are we trying to solve?” I am a firm believer that before solutions and great ideas are discussed, much less pursued and implemented, the problem or opportunity needs to be well understood and defined. Far too often teams move forward with solutions to the wrong problem, or proceed with less impactful outcomes in mind, either of which lead to wrong, or less effective, pursuits.

Fit for purpose is a term that simply indicates that something is good enough to meet the need it was intended to satisfy.

The goal of doing anything should be that the end result meets a need. Otherwise why do it, right? So, what I want you to consider is whether or not Agile and your chosen Agile practices are fit for purpose. Settling that issue is far too involved than a blog post can manage – I cover this and much more in my book Pursuing Timeless Agility. For this post, I want to provide some metaphors/analogies to help get a point across – that while what we sometimes proceed with may seem like a good choice, when we dig deeper we realize it’s not. Use this in thinking about why and how you’re pursuing Agile and see if it helps refine your approach.

Analogy #1

  1. The Problem: you have a wound (cut) that is exposed
  2. Desired Outcome: to protect the wound
  3. Possible Solutions: medical bandage, cast, or duct tape

The most important question to answer is why do you want to protect the wound? This answer will drive what you do and how. A medical bandage, a cast, and duct tape all cover and protect a wound, but which one is more “fit for purpose?” Only the cast prevents bumping the wound. The advantage of the cast is that it prevents further damaging the wound by eliminating the possibility of bumping it, besides avoiding the pain of bumping it. Is a cast the best solution? Based on the desired outcome of “protect the wound,” it probably is the best solution. The question is – is that the right outcome to pursue? Why do you want to protect the wound? What if the outcome, the why, was to “facilitate healing of the wound?” After all, is not that ultimately what you really want? In that case, perhaps a cast is overkill. A cast also does not allow the wound to breathe well, resulting in longer healing time or improper healing. Duct tape also does not allow the wound to breathe, and the negative downstream impacts, such as removing the tape, are devastating – likely reopening the wound when the tape is removed. A medical bandage is more fit for purpose when healing is the desired outcome. It allows medication to be applied to the wound; it allows changing the bandage without ripping open the wound; and it allows the wound to breathe – all helping with the healing process.

It is vital to know what problem you are trying to solve, but more so, what outcome you desire and WHY. Share on X

Your why, or your “so that”, defines your desired outcomes. Your desired outcomes drive the solutions you pursue. Therefore, you need to make sure that you are defining the right desired outcomes so that you produce and deliver the solutions that are most fit for purpose.

Analogy #2

Some people practice Tai Chi for the health and exercise benefits. It provides that for sure. But if one goes into Tai Chi solely focused on the exercise and flexibility benefits, that is all they will get out of it. It’s an incomplete understanding with limited benefit. In fact, with this focus, with this why, one will not be able to defend themselves well using Tai Chi because it isn’t practiced with self-defense in mind. On the other hand, if one practices Tai Chi with self-defense as the objective, they reason why they practice Tai Chi, then they will get the health and exercise benefits automatically as a byproduct.

An incomplete understanding and subsequent practice can still lead to the appearance of success, but will it lead to the outcome you desire?

The same thing happens with Agile frameworks/practices. Why do you want Agile? Why are you choosing the practices you choose? Many will pursue something like Scrum for the promise of delivering more stuff. Their why is to get more done in less time, or to have more checkpoints to measure progress. In other words, their objectives, their whys, are the same as they were prior to Agile. As a result, everything they focus on is about productivity – how to do more stories in a Sprint. The same measures of “success” are carried into new ways of working. Agile methods are employed, but the measures of success, the whys, haven’t changed. So, like Tai Chi, the primary benefits of Agile are never realized when the primary purpose of the art is not the focus. I believe that Mindset Transcends Methodology™. Your methods will always align with your why. If you believe being “on time” and “productive” is the most important measure of success, then everything you do will align with that. You may call it Agile, but it won’t be Agile, because the why behind Agile thinking is different. In order for what you do to be Agile, your why must align with what Agile intended to achieve. So, what problem are you really trying to solve by “going Agile?”

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