Going Pro, or remaining a Club Agilist?

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, arguably the best professional sports announcers of all time, have a way with words. How else can you keep interest in the 2,100 mile bike race that is the Tour de France? Step past your thoughts of athletic cheating for a moment to grab onto the point of this story.

One of my favorite floral descriptions by Liggett in the Tour de France was when Lance Armstrong decidedly passed Jan Ullrich, “making him look like a club cyclist.” Ah, we all knew what that meant. One person looked like a pro, the other like an amateur. Nothing wrong with being an amateur…unless you want to win le Tour.

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That got me thinking about the struggles of teams and leaders being Agile. Are you a Club Agilist or a pro? I hope you answered, “Pro! But I’m not there yet.”

The Club Agilist wants to embrace Agile and its methodologies, at least, until it becomes difficult. There is a vision of transformation, but the Club Agilist is easily distracted by more important victories. The kind that have been rewarded by a hierarchical, command and control environment for so many years. In fact, the Club Agilist looks for ways to mix in that project manager role with scrum master role. Close enough!

The Club Agilist is comfortable with what is comfortable. No use pushing against a tsunami of culture to get everyone to attend the standup, when you can just cancel them, or hold them once a week. Agile is important, but it’s not everything. Why go to backlog refinement when it conflicts with another bucket of work you fragmented yourself to take on? And, leading Agile is much more comfortable from an office.

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The Pro Agilist wants to embrace Agile and its methodologies. The pro wants to win, practices every day, with the goal of continuous learning and improvement to reach their highest potential. The pro often has a coach, to help them practice and keep their focus amidst the super-concentrated, resistant culture around them, and in their own head.

The pro has a clear vision that is stronger than any impediment or discomfort that arises on the journey. Breaking dependencies and removing impediments is best done walking the gemba, so a pro’s calendar is not full of 1×1 meetings. And, the pro Agilist knows the journey continues on indefinitely, in the spirit of continuous learning.

A Pro Agilist is willing to have those difficult conversations, the ones that have that question that should have been asked a year ago, and the ones that mean he or she will need to change. The pro is willing to lose (your credibility, your comfy control of the project, your status reports, your office!) in the short term to win in the long term.

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You don’t have to be perfect to be a Pro Agilist, but it’s important to embrace the values of being a pro. Uphold Agile methodologies and philosophies, even when they conflict with your environment. How? Have a vision for your leaders and teams that is strong enough to remain resilient during hardship. Share it with them relentlessly.

Understand that Agile is more than teams “running Scrum.” It’s worth repeating. Agile is not just for teams. Agile is a smarter way of working for leaders and teams. Having a coach to teach your leaders and teams will strengthen you for tough times. You know there will be hardship. Agile is ambiguous! Yet the rewards of having a strong Agile organization are endless…and sustainable.


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