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How much of an impact can a great agile consultant have?

How much of an impact can a great agile consultant have?

I think that a great agile consultant can have a huge impact.

An agile consultant doesn’t have an interest in hanging around. They aren’t looking to spend months or years in the client environment. They want to solve the problem or launch the opportunity, quicky and effectively.

I would say that this is the primary difference between an agile consultant and an agile coach.

One seeks to become embedded in the environment and work with the team to continuously evolve and grow, whilst the other is invested in solving complex problems and helping to build creative solutions.

Agile Consulting

An agile consultant tends to be contracted to help solve very specific problems.

The team are going to be doing all of the work, whilst the agile consultant is going to be giving them options to explore and things to try based on their experience, expertise, and knowledge.

One of the things I do a lot with corporate engagements is create something which I call ‘the state of Agile report’. It’s a snapshot of how things currently work in the organization, ranked by capability and competence, to provide an insight into where they currently are and where they need to go.

It includes a recommendation for the top three (3) things that the organization should focus on improving or address.

I’m not necessarily contract, in some cases, to solve those problems but it is my responsibility to identify them and support my insights and recommendations with evidence.

That might include interviews with key personnel and it might include something like a Value Stream Mapping workshop where we identify how value flows throughout the value stream.

  • How does the team currently work?
  • How do they figure things out?
  • How do they make decisions?
  • What is their current agile capability?
  • How do the team respond to disruption and change?

And so forth.

You often find several contradictions across different levels of the organization.

At the coalface, people will tell you that they don’t write unit tests and they don’t have automated builds, but when you talk to leadership teams, they will boast that the environment is perfectly set up for agility and that teams follow X processes and best practices to the letter.

There is a significant disconnect between what happens versus how leadership imagines it works.

You sometimes find that there isn’t an honest and open communication flow between leadership and the teams doing the work. It simply isn’t safe to tell the truth or speak frankly about the problems encountered.

So, the leadership team will set X as a standard, which is impossible to deliver, yet people will report that X has been done. It shouldn’t be that way but when people are scared to lose their job, or put their promotion prospects at risk, they often choose the path of least resistance.

So, a great agile consultant can quickly discover the big problems that need to be addressed, and they can show the team how to navigate that territory effectively. Show them how to actively solve the problem and help them create processes or systems to ensure continuous improvement.

Agile coaches tend to work with teams on discovering and resolving small problems, little things that add up over time, whilst a great agile consultant will be identifying and resolving the elephants in the room.

Things that rapidly move the needle on the metrics that matter once resolved.

Focus on the work that matters.

Sometimes, the big things simply take too long to resolve.

That’s fine, identifying them is important and it gives the organization a focus for the future, but what you really want to do as an agile consultant is identify the areas that you can impact immediately.

It’s kind of like identifying a switch on the wall. As soon as you flick the switch, something happens. The lights come on. The machinery starts moving. The production line starts delivering.

Those elements are important to identify and resolve immediately.

The top says ‘continuous delivery’ and the bottom says ‘intermittent delivery’, and you want to figure out how to flip that switch to continuous delivery.

How do I just turn that on? How do I get things moving in the right direction immediately.

You are not always going to be right. I am clear with clients that I am going to give them things to try. Things which have worked in other applications and things which ought to work in this environment, but they need to stay open to the idea that we are working through a process of experimentation.

Some elements might do the trick right away, other elements will take some trial and error to figure out. The good things is that we learn and adapt based on the data and evidence.

The consulting moment arrives when something works a little bit, but not completely, and the team are keen to explore how they can build on the initial small success. What else can they try? What else could they do?

Own the problem, don’t outsource the problem.

There is a tendency for organizations to contract a coach or consultant and outsource the problem to them. The problem with that line of reasoning is that they don’t build or grow agile capability, nor do they grow their core competencies.

Sure, it’s great for the agile coach but as soon as they leave, the organization is back to square one.

I work with organizations to own the problems in the environment, and grow the necessary skills and competencies to effectively deal with that problem and problems that may arise in the future.

As a consultant, you aren’t worried about being fired. You are there on a short term arrangement and your responsibility is to tell the truth and allow the team to address the problem.

It works great for you and works great for the team.

You can say the things that others may be too afraid to say or you can shine a light on the problem in a way that makes leadership aware of what needs to be done in order to solve that problem. You can just hone in, without fear, on how to move the needle on the things that leadership cares about.

  • This is what is happening in your organization.
  • This is why it’s broken.
  • This is how you fix it.
  • This is what it looks like once you have fixed the problem.

Simple. Straightforward. Effective.

Sure, they may or may not contract a coach to help them address the issue, but what matters is that they have clarity on what needs to be addressed in order for them to flick the switch to ‘continuous delivery of value’ and are clear about why that needs to happen.

This is why I believe a great agile consultant can be more valuable than a great agile coach. They can help the organization quickly identify what needs to happen to flick the switch from ‘stop’ to ‘deliver’.

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