Interview with Agile Coach Aslam Hirani
A take on what Agile takes: interview with Agile Coach Aslam Hirani
In this interview, Aslam Hirani – a programmer-turned-agile coach – discusses his experiences as an agile coach. Drawing from his decade-long experience working with big names in the industry, he talks about the importance of agile culture and how a company can get the most from going down this path.
A lot of companies these days are moving to agile because of its benefits. Agile is a culture and one that is people-oriented and made up of a set of values and principles that guide teams to produce value effectively. It puts people over process and strengthens the foundation of the company and its mission.
“Agile is a culture, rather than a process. If you take a look, when the agile manifesto was created, the people behind it didn’t think about putting a framework together but a set of values and principles – this in itself shows how important the idea of creating a sustainable culture was to them. When a company wants to shift to agile, it’s not just a shift of a few processes, but a cultural shift as a whole,” says Aslam.
Space For Retrospectives
This cultural shift also means that companies must do things differently. “Often when we talk to leaders, they tell us that team members don’t talk during retrospectives and hence they don’t see much value in doing retrospectives. But does the team’s silence mean they have nothing to say? Or, are they just afraid to say it?” asks Aslam. “Agile creates a psychologically safe space where retrospectives can do what they are supposed to.”
Aslam brings up the example of a company where a retrospective ran for two hours when the management was not involved. “People suddenly had so much to say! I was brought into the organization to make retrospectives work. And they did, as soon as the management walked out of the meeting. This just goes to show the problems that exist at a fundamental level,” he says.
Another issue that crops up a lot while companies switch to agile is how early-on they need to implement the change in culture in the agile transition journey.Companies often believe that agile is only for IT or product development teams, but that’s not the case. Agile is for the entire company and the whole institution must change its culture to truly benefit from it. “When a company hires an agile coach, they say, ‘Here are four scrum teams – just coach them.’ It doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, teams outside IT think that agile isn’t for them. In reality, Agile is for everyone, from the leaders to their teams. It is a culture that the entire company must buy into before they can reap the full benefits of agile. And they must start adopting this culture from the very beginning,” adds Aslam.
Change is lasting only if it is done at all levels but that’s not always easy. “This is especially true with people who’ve done something a certain way for a long time. Any change involves learning, unlearning and relearning and this is particularly difficult for them,” he says.
For example, agile does not produce the expected results in companies where micromanagement is still rampant. “I have seen cases where scrum teams have to give statuses every week to three levels of managers. This takes up a lot of time and effort, which could otherwise be spent on things that are productive to the company. When companies shift to agile, the management needs to learn to trust their teams.” While he agrees that there must be accountability, Aslam says managers can use different routes to ensure it. For instance, they can set goals and look for outcomes, instead of asking for status updates, every now and then.
At the end of the day, any business looking to shift towards agile must look at the following things: “You have to change the culture and foundation of the way you function. People come together in cross-functional teams in any organization to deliver value. And, this will happen more effectively, if they are driven by purpose, rather than by fear. Don’t keep asking for updates or why something hasn’t happened. Instead, have retrospectives where you can give and receive feedback openly and without fear. Again, agile is all about the people, so trusting them and establishing a family-like bond will ensure greater success.”