I may be termed an Indophile, I have a love for all things Indian: the country, its cultures, its religions, its people and most especially its cuisine!  There is nothing that gives me greater pleasure than working in my kitchen creating awesome curries from the many different parts of India.  The spicier the better.  On a trip to Kerala a few years back I made a new friend who bought me some Kerala garam masala and some black gold (that’s black peppercorns to us brits) – cheers Cipson! But that is an aside and not really what I wanted to talk with you about today, although if you want to share your recipes with me I would be most happy to hear them, but maybe not on this blog post.

I have reached out in the last few days to a number of people on my LinkedIn network letting them know where they can find copies of my book as there has been a growing interest in my book in India.  (Thanks as well to Naresh who wrote my first Indian review earlier this year – you can see that review here) But this isn’t a way of trying to get you to buy my book, in fact, I would like to get your input for my next book.  So allow me to sketch a vision for you and see if this is something you or one of your colleagues or people in your network can help me with.  To that end please feel free to share this post far and wide.

My journey began here …

So, it has almost been ten years since I first travelled to India, to the beautiful city of Bengaluru, or what we brits call Bangalore.  I was instantly blown away with the vibrancy and colours of the city along with its weird sweet smell, something that let me know that I was far away from home.    But one thing helped me to feel like I was at home: the people.  From the moment I stepped foot in the hotel (Kudos to the Lemon Tree Hotel Bangalore – still one of the best hotels I have visited in India in terms of service) the welcome that I was given was nothing short of royal.  I was truly made to feel like a king – and who doesn’t like that?

What struck me as unique compared to the many places I had travelled to was the authentic heart of its people.  Now I know I may be accused by some people reading this as being overly gushing and emotional and surely everywhere on the plant can boast of having such kind people, and I would say that this is true.  The difference, however, is about the amount of openness, and dare I say it, love, that the people offered.  It felt like a home away from home.  I made few friends out there that to this day I am still in contact with, Chef Sushil for instance who gave me his recipe to Dahl Makhani (still the best dahl I have ever tasted) and Eallina who introduced me to my first Korean meal (not a dog in sight on the menu … or at least I think not!!!)   and my own personal cab driver, Raj, who went above and beyond helping me find my way around the hustle and bustle of Bengaluru.  In short, the people I met were awesome.  This is why I had such hope for India and its adoption of all things Agile.  I have said it so often and I hear many other Agile luminaries say similar “Agile is about the people.”  So much so that this expression has become cliched.  With such awesome people, I thought that India would become a world centre of excellence for all things Agile.  However, my experience as I will discuss shortly is that Agile is in danger of becoming extinct for many reasons but for one reason in particular.

Why go to India?

I think it must be quite insulting to anyone who works in India that many of the large organisations outsource large parts of their IT operations to India because wait for it … it’s cheaper out there!  Mmmm … this I feel is a huge misnomer and somewhat of a myth.  Many of my colleagues here in the UK over a private beer or whiskey (whiskey is one thing the Indians don’t seem to do very well – but that’s not their fault – it’s all about the water, Scotland and Japan has the best and most suitable H2O for that particular beverage) will admit that there really isn’t much cost savings to be had by outsourcing to India.  There are many reasons for this, but this isn’t the place to share those reasons.  But what is common is that managers and leaders in the UK who have outsourced to India have “come a cropper” discovering that the cost of delivering all the way over there is hugely offset by a multiplicity of factors.  This is where I usually come in.  In the past, I have been asked to troubleshoot Agile transformations that have gone of the rails …

A typical conversation goes like this:

Head of IT:  Mark, we need you to go to India
Mark:  Awesome – when?
Head of IT:  Next week.
Mark:  OK – why?
Head of IT:  We are having delivery issues
Mark:  What sort of Issues?
Head of IT:  They can’t seem to deliver on time and when they do deliver it’s shi*
Mark: What can I do to help then
Head of IT: You can make them more Agile.

Oh dear … there’s that expression again …

Make them Agile

On the one hand, I love that expression because for many years it helped pay the bills and allowed me to travel to most exotic places like India, Poland, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada, USA and Glasgow!  Glasgow … “exotic???” I hear you cry – well OK that may be a push but when it comes to whiskey and to deep-fried pizza’s there are few places on the planet to compete!!!! (Yes you did read that right deep-fried pizza is a delicacy that is available in the Blue Lagoon chippy in Argyle Street – most delightful and will clog your heart up just by looking at it – that’s why you need the whiskey chaser to clear out the fat afterwards!!!)

On the other hand, it is an expression I have come to detest because of its implications and the impact it has on teams, who by and large are doing the best they can to be as agile as they can be.  In short, my experience from being one of the first Agile coaches in the UK and doing this Agile transformation lark for almost 20 years is that the major factor that influences a team’s level of agility is the degree to which leaders and managers are they themselves Agile.  That’s worth repeating, but in different words, it’s the leaders and managers who need to be MADE agile (if indeed you can make anybody into anything or you can make people do something) NOT the teams.

I discovered this to be exactly the case when I went to India and the issue is even more pronounced in India when the caste culture is interwoven into the fabric of the working agreements.  There seemed to be more extremes of the command-and-control style of management in India than what appeared to be the case here in the UK.  So here I finally get to one of my curiosities and the place where I would like to engage your help …

The state of Agile in India

There are a number of questions that I am researching for my next book and I would like to include your stories or case studies with your permission.  So, if you would like to have your story included let me know.  I will honour any anonymity that you request or if you would like a mention in the book, I will happily do that as well.  I can understand this need for anonymity because some of my clients have requested that I sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) at the outset of my work with them.  I will however most likely keep the name of the organisation anonymous as I don’t want to get sued because this book promises to expose the darker side of agile and why it’s failing so badly.  Personally, I feel it is important that certain realities be addressed at the outset by leaders who when deciding that they want to GO Agile (like agile is a destination … it’s not, it’s a journey).  My current book provides an awesome solution as many have testified already but before applying that particular solution leaders and senior managers need to address certain other issues first if they are to be successful.

So here are the questions I have for you:

I’m curious to know how agile is evolving in India and specifically on a few fronts:

  1. With regards to agility in the senior management layer: Are leaders and managers still stuck in a very command and control style of leadership, telling people to be agile but yet not thinking or doing agile themselves?
  2. With regards to organisational agility and culture: are people still stuck in applying frameworks while thinking that this intervention makes a key and significant difference (for instance DevOps has now become sexy in the last 5 years and people are very excited about one size fits all frameworks such as SAFe!!!)
  3. What other impediments and causes (not necessarily root causes), besides the leadership style and management skills get in the way of greater team or organisational agility?

When a few of you have shared your stories I will update this new blog post that will form the foundation of a chapter in my new book.  I look forward to collaborating with you and sharing your voice.

Thanks in advance,

Mark

PS here are the links to my book in the various digital formats in case you are interested.

Amazon: https://bit.ly/BookOnAgileIndia

Leanpub: Special discounted coupon for Indian readers https://bit.ly/LeanpubCouponforIndiaOnly