06 February 2015

Chief Agile Officer?

Does anyone need a Chief Agile Officer? Not is this galaxy.

Imagine an old-school and a new-school narrative:

1. Old-School

Imagine a storied company called Hammer & Sons.

Some 20 years after amazon.com revolutionizes web commerce, Hammer's CEO Ken Cretaceous realizes he's got no direct or indirect online sales channel. A fat cat buddy who shares a third of Ken's Hawker, hands him a copy of some Gartner drivel called Doing the Agile as they cross paths on the tarmac.

Before cruising altitude, Ken swallows doing the agile as the antidote for his staggering lack of foresight. As a profoundly unimaginative, but not atypical reactionary executive, Ken Cretaceous thinks doing the agile is a shortcut to Hammer's online sales revenue.

Suppose Ken hires you to coach his people on doing the agile. You're jazzed. Ken greets you with an enthusiastic back slap. Gracious to your benefactor, you don't correct Mr. Cretaceous when he pronounces agile as agīle with the long i.

You're a popular speaker at conferences. You're a talented agile coach. Over a handful of workshop sessions, you post some modest gains at Hammer despite marginal developer infrastructure and dubious developer talent.

Before you can get to your Kickstarting Continuous Integration session, Ken cuts you loose because he wants to save some doing the agile money to buy an enterprise agile tracking tool. He thanks you for "turning the organization upside down" even though he no closer to peddling hand-forged specialty hammers online than when Silas B. Cretaceous opened the first Hammer & Sons plant in 1899.

The following Monday, Hammer & Sons reverts to cretaceous period behaviors. Hammer & Sons is a manufacturing company, not a software company.
When does more of what you were doing make sense for this company?
Imagine another Hammer scenario where Ken Cretaceous hires you as a full-time Chief Agile Officer. Your business card reads Chief Agile Officer, Hammer & Sons. In a month, you hate yourself. You hate yourself because of:
  • the massively un-processable cognitive dissonance,
  • the slovenly business patterns you couldn't reset in two lifetimes, and
  • the breathtaking malaise of your fellow employees.
You force a smile at Hammer's Free-Pizza-Friday despite your maxim that workplace pizza is always a condescending gesture.

Worse yet, you pose a threat to Hammer's CIO because like CIOs in most non-software organizations, she conflates IT infrastructure with software product development. You and she are at cross-purposes budget-wise and mission-wise. Your job is to pull rabbits from a hat. Her job is to make sure someone remembered to gas up the back-up power generator.

You realize that Ken Cretaceous is an incandescent bulb ― a dimly lit bulb.
Many Chief Executives are still trying to extract the last pennies from the industrial revolution.
There is no dosage of doing the agīle that will fix Hammer & Son's non-renewable fossils!

Finally, whatever non-calcified developers you have on your team resent having you as yet another non-producing overlord.

The thing is, one could near-shore Hammer's online sales to contract developers who could Shopify, Bootstrap-ify, GitHub-ify, and CodeShip-ify it it in 3 months for roughly the Chief Agile Officer's salary.
Agile is fine when used as guiding principles by talented developers who grok its essence. But in the hands of C-suite nincompoops, or a ponderous PMO, agile becomes toxic.
2. New-School

For the new-school example, imagine you are bootstrapping a software product. Your most essential people are developers who are proven at producing software. Without proven producers, you're vapor. You're wearing many hats, but you gleefully recall Facebook bought a photo sharing app for $1 billion 18 months after launch.

Now imagine your product is attracting and retaining a sizable revenue producing community. This product is your baby! You bootstrapped it on creativity and moxie with the best developers you could find. You want to hang on as long as you can. The question is:
Could you ever imagine, in your wildest knock-it-out-of-the-park conception of success, hiring a Chief Agile Officer?
No. A willingness to learn ― the most succinct definition of agile ― is already steeped in startup culture.

One can imagine a distant galaxy where a Chief Agile Officer makes sense, but not in the Milky Way.