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How to overcome Fear with Agile Transformation
Stephen de Villiers Graaff
Agile Coach and Consultant, DVT

How to overcome Fear with Agile Transformation

Monday, 27 July 2015 17:20

Introduction to Overcoming Fear in Agile Transformation

Overcoming Fear with Agile Transformation

In Agile Transformation consultations, as an agile consultant, fear is almost always the primary subject. Understanding how Agile can help us work through the fear to achieve our goals is crucial. We first need to dispel the notion that overcoming fear means removing it.

The Role of Fear in Agile Business Transformation

Removing fear is not only impossible but also highly inadvisable in any successful agile transformation. Fearlessness leads to complacency, a common pitfall in the agile transformation process. This complacency often breeds arrogance, which in turn can lead to accidents in both project management and product development.

I remember my first open water scuba dive, many years ago now. I was a rank novice, much like when an organization first adopts agile methodologies. I was diving into one of the murkiest kelp forests in the Cape. Visibility was low, the waves were slowly surging, mirroring the initial challenges faced during an agile transition. All I can remember from that dive was the overwhelming desire for it to end, similar to the initial resistance in an agile transformation roadmap.

Turn the clock forward several years and hundreds of dives. I’m mapping out a deep, unchartered quarry, much like a leadership team outlining a transformation journey. The water is icy cold, and black as ink. The descent is slow, and as I approach the bottom, I have no idea what I’ll find. Once again I feel that familiar twinge of fear. I start imagining the hundreds of things that could possibly go wrong. I close my eyes…

Agile Transformation Strategy: Embracing Discomfort and Visibility

I’ll come back to the story in a minute. When you embark on agile transformation, you need to know that certain things are going to happen:

  • Firstly, discomfort. Not chaos, but rather an ongoing discomfort as the things you knew start to change.
  • Everything will become visible. In the harsh light of reality, there’ll literally be no place to hide.
  • Tough questions will be asked, and they’ll need to be answered.
  • The words ‘No!’ and ‘Why?’ will pop up everywhere. They’ll only add to the discomfort.
  • Deadlines will be embraced, not shied away from.
  • Hard commitments will be made, and will be expected to be met.
  • Authority will be delegated, control will be relinquished. You can only imagine how scary this can be, especially for managers.
  • No matter your station, you will not be entitled to respect. Respect will have to be earned.
  • And last, but not least, change can no longer be denied. It is to be expected.

Benefits of Agile Transformation in Navigating Challenges

As you’re probably sensing right now, all of these events invoke an incredible amount of fear, much like the initial stages of an agile transformation journey. The fear I felt at the bottom of that quarry is like the uncertainty at the beginning of agile business transformation. Instead of ignoring the impossible, I used what I had and what I knew, which is similar to applying agile principles in a business transformation.

When I closed my eyes because I couldn’t see, it was like facing the initial uncertainties in an agile transition. I had to rely on my other senses, heightened by the darkness, just as an agile team depends on agility and a collaborative mindset during the transformation. My experience and my team’s support were important, just like in a successful agile transformation where knowledge, coaching, and teamwork are key.

By using fear to my advantage, instead of trying to remove it, I mirrored how an organization adopts agile methodologies in a transformation journey. A successful dive, much like a successful transformation in business, is always a team effort. You never dive or transform alone. Investing time in engaging team members, asking tough questions, and gaining new knowledge makes the journey more successful, both in diving and in agile transformation.

Agile Transition: From Fear to Mastery

Agility teaches you that if something seems insurmountable, you question it until you understand it. In this way, fear becomes part of the process. Every day, every minute, you make the conscious decision to face your fear. Adopting this mindset is crucial in any agile transformation strategy. After a while, you find it’s not that scary anymore.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 27, 2015, and was updated on January 2024.

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