The MVP of Agile

2020-12-30 This post is over 2 years old

One of the things has perplexed me about watching failed agile adoptions. These questions always seem to come up: ‘Why?’ Why should I…, Why would I let them… Why indeed?

Now I cannot claim to have the answer to all those why’s, but I noticed something in the pattern. Those questions broadly can fall into one bucket: How does this benefit me?

And you know what… That can be a very reasonable question… Sometimes. I think one of the reasons Agile Transformations can fail has to do with the moments that this question becomes unreasonable. It is very difficult to answer how does this benefit me when the answer is ‘It’s not about you…’ I believe true agility asks the participants to take their eyes off themselves and set them on another party, that is to focus on service. That alone is immensely difficult!

So I think it prudent to propose another way to help answer the question, by pointing to what I believe the minimum viable product of agility is. Here’s the basic idea:

  • Try this out.
  • If you see some improvements, keep iterating.
  • If not, dump it and try something else.

Simple right? Now here’s the part that is not: The MVP of agility is one person seeking to serve another, responding to their needs, and seeking feedback on the actions taken. It is a close, interactive, relationship between one individual trying to serve another! That’s it.

Put into our usual language, the MVP is one developer taking the time to seek input from one business representative, making a change in the system to benefit that user, and then seeking feedback on how that action worked out. What is more, is the Business Person need not be 100% dedicated or involved. The Developer could take the lead on this! But it is necessary, that the developer realize the core of that relationship must be based on their service to the other person. It is not about building software.

Think of it this way; The core tenets of the agile manifesto emphasize interactions, collaboration, and responsiveness. Each of these can be applied in the concept of service. The best service is delivering the value that the other person needs and getting better at doing so over time. This is both straight-forward and hard. Sounds simple enough on paper, but hard because it very definitely exercises skills not commonly employed. It encourages the serving individual to behave more like a small business, almost like you’re self-employed.

These MVP activities might be so simple as as adjusting a button, making the text bigger or moving it to the left. Or maybe it’s just adding a waiting spinner so the user knows something is happening. These little things are often simple to implement. They tend to be non-intrusive. And the are definitely within the range of an individual. The trick is in building the relationships which allow these activities to take place. I cannot say that achieving an MVP of agility is easy. Too many stories abound in our Industry, and even my own experience argues against it. But I will say this: you can do it.

What would happen if every time you entered a discussion with the business, you started with : ‘How may I help?’ or ‘How may I be of service?’ You can control if you really mean it, and your audience can hear it in your voice. Eventually someone just might take you up on that offer. What might you do then, if your goal was service and value delivered to them? Would you ask them about what they need? What would happen if you could step out of your daily world of code, and tickets, and step into theirs for just a bit?

This would call you to lead yourself first. But that’s alright, you were always the first one you could lead. If you think agility could help your company, why not help them see it? Don’t just espouse Scrum, or Iterations, or Kanban. Run an experiment, show how it can be successful, and help them become invested in a system which you believe is for both your good! It’s simple to start. You already have everything you need, save one thing. The choice. Are you willing to shift your focus, to build the kind of relationships necessary, and to serve? It is a choice you’ll need to make every day as you steward this newly seeded agile MVP through to fruition. Are you willing to take a chance?

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[b] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[c] There is no commandment greater than these.” Matt. 12:29-31