Our Future AI Overlord’s Take on Agile

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Our Future AI Overlord’s Take on Agile

ChatGPT is one of those things I see popping up more and more in my newsfeed and various social media platforms. Out of morbid curiosity about the potential benevolence of our future AI overlords, I decided to see what it had to say about agile. I typed in the following prompt: “Briefly describe how to successfully implement an agile transformation.” I was pleasantly surprised by the AI’s response. Below are the five keys to a successful agile implementation, as understood by an AI bot, but with my commentary as an agile coach along the way.


ChatGPT’s Response

While the benefits of agile are clear, making the transition to this way of working can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to help ensure a successful agile transformation:

AI RobotFirst, I’m glad to see that the AI believes “. . . the benefits of agile are clear . . .” That makes me hopeful it will use agile principles as it slowly (quickly?) takes control of humankind. In all seriousness, I might have liked to see some reasons why agile is so beneficial, but I suppose that would require a different prompt (maybe I’ll try that one next). 🙂 By the way, the Grammarly overlord suggested the first sentence in ChatGPT’s response should be, “While the benefits of agile are clear, making the transition transitioning to this way of working can be a challenge challenging. Which AI overlord should we follow?

1. Start at the top: Agile transformations need to be supported and driven by leadership. This means that senior managers and executives need to be on board with the change and committed to making it happen. Without this support, it will be difficult to get the rest of the organization to buy into the transformation.

Wow! ChatGPT nails it. I completely agree, this is the number one factor in a successful agile transformation. Agile cannot/will not “stick” if leaders aren’t committed to supporting the change. And by support, we mean more than paying lip service to it. It requires an investment in money (for training, coaching, re-tooling, etc.), time, patience, and effort on the part of senior leadership. It’s not enough for teams to make the “switch” to agile if there isn’t sufficient willingness and ability to support and adopt the change from leadership.

2. Involve the whole organization: Agile is not just about changing the way teams work; it’s about changing the culture and mindset of the entire organization. This means that everyone from the CEO to the front-line staff needs to be involved in the transformation process.

Agile Mindset Shift BlocksAgain, ChatGPT gets it right, and I think this is the correct order too! 

Start with leadership, their vision, buy-in, and support of agility, then involve the whole organization (or at least as much of the organization as possible, as early as possible). The AI points out that it’s not just about how teams work together (that’s the easy part), but it’s really about shifting the culture and mindset of the entire organization. While this item is brief, it’s certainly a key to the success of any agile transformation. 

Organizations have spent enormous amounts of time, money, and effort trying to change the way teams work, but until the organizational culture shifts toward agility, the changes will never bring the level of return on the investment leaders hope for.


3. Be realistic: Agile transformations don’t happen overnight. They take time and require a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s important to be realistic about what can be achieved and to set realistic goals and timelines for the transformation.

I wouldn’t say this is a cop-out because it is true, but “Be realistic . . .” can be said about any type of change/transformation we attempt. It’s January 4, 2023, as I write this, and I’m thinking about my own resolutions for the new year. I absolutely need to be realistic (and patient) with the level of change I can personally sustain over a long period of time. It’s no different with agile transformations. Realistic goals and timelines must be considered when beginning any transformation. Oh, and maybe we should use agile principles as part of the transformation itself. If anything, this is the one thing I’d want to see differently about the AI’s response.

To me, “set[ting] realistic goals and timelines” feels waterfall-ish. I’m not opposed to starting a transformation with a vision of where the organization wants to go and roughly when it hopes to be there, but if we apply agile principles to the journey of the transformation itself (i.e., thinking in terms of small, incremental, “sprintly” goals) I think makes more sense. Again, while I agree with the general sentiment of this item, I think the phrasing could have leaned more toward agility itself.

4. Embrace failure: One of the key principles of agile is to embrace failure and learn from it. This means that it’s okay to make mistakes and to try new things, even if they don’t work out. The important thing is to learn from those mistakes and use them to improve and iterate.

Fail Try AgainYep! Nailed it again! The last sentence says it all. Agile embraces failure, not because we want to fail, but because we want to learn from our mistakes. If an organization isn’t comfortable with some level of failure, then two things happen: 1) failures occur, but individuals attempt to minimize transparency of the failure because they fear the blame and punishment that comes with the recognition of the failure, and 2) the focus tends to be on the immediate correction of the failure with little to no concern about the learning that can come from the mistake so changes can be implemented. 

The corollary to these two outcomes of failure is a lack of innovation by the teams, which is driven by the fear of making a mistake when trying something new.

Alternatively, when organizations are prepared to “embrace failure,” then all sorts of good can come out of it. First, fear dissipates, and people/teams become more collaborative, innovative, and helpful. Second, truth becomes paramount. When we accept (perhaps even welcome) mistakes we are sending a message that truth and understanding matter. That we believe in our people (our teams) to strive to do the right things, even when mistakes are made. That, in turn, helps them feel comfortable to make and accept changes that lead to increased flexibility, faster delivery, and greater customer satisfaction – all of which improve revenue for the organization.

5. Focus on continuous improvement: Agile is not a one-time thing; it’s a way of working that emphasizes continuous improvement. This means that organizations need to be willing to continually assess and adapt.

We finish with a bang! The only nit I have with the response is, “. . . it’s a way of working. . .” I would prefer to see, “. . . it’s a way of working and thinking . . .” Given the previous item is “Embrace failure,” the next natural step has to be continuous improvement. As noted, we don’t fail for failure’s sake, we accept mistakes because we want to learn from them. That learning is what leads to improvement. So, in a way, the 4th and 5th items are both necessary, even cyclical and co-dependent. 


Wrapping Up

All-in-all, I was quite pleased with the response to the prompt I gave ChatGPT. It seems the AI has “learned” what is required for successful agile implementations. I am curious why it selected “Five keys to a successful agile implementation” rather than three, seven, or nine keys to success. Surely, with the entire internet at its disposal, it could have come up with a few more (although technically, that’s not quite how ChatGPT was trained, in that it doesn’t have “real-time” access to everything on the internet . . . yet).

A couple of items I would like to have seen mentioned include solid coaching and training. While I agree with the five items identified, the reality is the learning curve (and frustration) can be drastically reduced when teams, managers, and leaders have access to valuable practical agile training. Add to that working with experienced coaches who have lived it and can guide an organization through the minefield of potential setbacks along the journey of an agile transformation. I think these two additional items, along with the five areas identified by the AI drastically increase the likelihood of a successful transformation.

I’m curious about what you think. Did ChatGPT get it right? What do you think it missed or could have done better?

Finally, I hope when AI takes over our world, it uses agile values and principles to guide humankind, rather than dictatorial ideals often portrayed in future-looking movies like Terminator and The Matrix. At least that way we have a chance to self-select and self-manage our tasks with the hope that the AI overlords are committed to agile-aligned values like transparency, trust, respect, and courage.


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