Don’t Just Try Something New, Embrace it

I’ve helped many clients, prospects and coworkers solve difficult problems over the years. Often the contact person articulates a problem. I ask open-ended questions to draw out more information. After some back and forth, I offer a concept or two that might help. Sometimes, the response is along the lines of “We tried that and it didn’t work.”

So if I had just mentioned Scrum, XP or Kanban, I might have a tendency to abandon those as possible solutions. After all, if the business has already tried something, why would they try it again?

Yes, but…

It’s important to determine what really happened and the context within which it happened. The following questions help:

  • What was the situation in the group/company at the time?
  • Is the situation different now?
  • What changes were implemented?
  • What were the results?
  • What was measured and what was observed?
  • Who did the analysis?
  • What specifically leads you to conclude that it didn’t work?

This line of questioning draws out what was really done and what really happened. One of two results is likely.

1) I discover that whatever was tried was not what I just proposed.

I often find that they only partially tried a new process. They cut corners, took shortcuts, didn’t get everyone to buy-in, and otherwise only half-heartedly tried to change. Of course, “…it didn’t work”.

2) The actual result was different from the perceived result.

In this case, some areas improved and some areas did not. The non-improvements may have overshadowed the positive ones. The metrics used to perform a meaningful before and after comparison may have been flawed.

This line of reasoning applies to any solution space. It could be a software development process, a technical architecture, a manufacturing process, a laboratory procedure, or even complex data analysis.

Back to agile development — don’t take the bait when someone says “We tried agile and it didn’t work.” (It may have been Scrum, Kanban, XP, Lean, etc.). Many agile approaches can work in the right context. Almost any agile approach will fail in the wrong context.

Bottom line: If you decide to try something new or make a significant change, embrace it. Make an honest attempt. Consider getting professional assistance. If you and your organization don’t make a serious effort, don’t claim you “tried that and it didn’t work”.

Updated: June 7, 2011 — 9:50 pm