Translation is a tricky business. What seems clear in one context is murky in another. The translation urban legend*, abbreviated in the title of this blog entry, humorously captures the difficulty of communicating when those who wish to communicate speak different languages. When discussing Agile with executives, I often find that their perception of Agile differs depending on their own and their organizations’s underlying cultural values. For example, I often hear that the adoption of Agile principles and practices is incompatible with a command and control culture. I do not believe this statement to be true.
According to organizational psychologist, Bill Schneider, Control cultures value certainty in the attainment of organizational goals. The organization is seen as a system built expressly to achieve those goals. While predictability, accuracy, dependability, safety are characteristics of certainty, these values are not fundamentally inconsistent with Agile.
I believe success with Agile in a command and control environment requires an accurate translation of Agile’s benefits in terms that resonate with the values and goals of the organization and its leaders. There must be an alignment at the cultural level before execution can be successful. To foster alignment, you must learn how to talk like a native.
I will be running a workshop helping others explore this topic (“Finding a Fit for Agile in Your Corporate Culture”) at the Quest 2011 Conference in Boston on 7 April.
* "The whisky was invisible", or Persistent myths of MT
John Hutchins, MT News International 11 (June 1995), pp.17-18]