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Agree to Try

Before starting to put any of The GROWS™ Method in place, you need to get everyone to agree that they will try their best to make it work. Instead of assuming implicit agreement, or mandating agreement, actually get the folks involved to publicly commit that they will try.

Pain Points

  • You’ve tried adopting new methods previously, but it didn’t work out well.
  • You’ve seen confusion on the team and in the organization about who is responsible for what.
  • Management doesn’t trust the team.
  • The team doesn’t trust management.

Benefits

Software development requires the cooperation of a bunch of people: everyone on the development team, their managers, the sponsors of the project, the users who will use the software being developed.

All of these parties need to come to an agreement on how they will all work and learn together. Often times these terms are simply imposed by the organization.

The only thing The GROWS™ Method imposes is the idea that all these parties need to agree to work with each other in a cooperative, empirical environment, and be willing to trust the evidence before their own eyes.

What Does it Look like?

An organization is a group of folks working together, and a method such as GROWS tries to make it easier for everyone to work together to achieve their overall goals.

The GROWS™ Method is for everyone in an organization. It’s not just for executives, or just for developers. It’s a corporate strategy for generating intellectual property in frequently changing, partial-knowledge environments. And because it involves everyone, everyone should agree that they will give their honest, best effort.

Transparency and accountability go both ways, from leadership to team members and back, throughout the organization.

So what does Agree to Try look like? Everyone involved in The GROWS™ Method needs to publicly:

  • Commit to try this wacky new thing to the best of their ability
  • Accept that change may be painful and slow at first, and feel awkward and unproductive
  • Realize that they have the power to de-rail and sabotage this effort, but agree not to

Ok, it sounds hokey and perhaps naïve, but so many “change initiatives” fail on this one simple point: explain clearly what we’re trying to do, and ask everyone to agree to try it.

Start Small

In keeping with OneThingAtATime, even though GROWS is designed for the whole organization, that doesn’t mean you want to start with the whole organization all at once.

A small, pilot team is a great way to start, and honors the “take small bites always” Core Principle. But you want that team’s leadership to be on board with the idea, as far up as you can go, the farther the better.

You want a thin thread of agreement, right up the management chain. Just like our Tracer Bullet approach to thin, vertical slices of code, this is like a management tracer bullet.

You need at least one champion in the executive leadership to Agree To Try, so that you can help foster and improve executive involvement.

Meeting Resistance

Many people, especially outside of the development team, might react negatively to any mention of change whatsoever—especially a change that tosses out the familiar comfort of a known Plan with firm dates and deliverables.

But for most organizations, those long-range, explicitly detailed plans are a complete fiction, and the inevitable deviation from the naive plan breeds hostility, distrust, and an ultimately negative environment for all parties. So instead of continuing to treat guesses as fact, we want to move toward an organization that deals with facts as they happen.

It is easier said than done.

The idea of experiments in GROWS tries to address common resistance, by proving value early and inexpensively. But in order for that to work, all parties must enter in with at least an open mind.

So when you hear a “knee-jerk” reaction along the lines of, “we couldn’t do that here,” suggest to the party that maybe they’re right, but we’ll try an experiment to see. Maybe it won’t work, but maybe we’ll learn what could work, and that is the whole point. If you don’t try, then you’ll never know.

Warning Signs

You’re doing it wrong if you or your organization…

  • behaves territorially. You mark your territory like an aggressive dog, refusing to share power or information, and let everyone know if you weren’t included in the decision. When something new comes up, avoid it or kill it.
  • are inflexible. You’ve got a policy for everything. If it’s not in the book, it doesn’t exist. This is the way we’ve always done it.
  • are uncomfortable with uncertainty. In an iterative, incremental project, you will not know the project end date or even what features will be delivered in the next iteration. You cannot stand this, and will insist on fixed dates and costs right up front.
  • treat developers as a commodity; a uniform, fungible resource. They are all alike. You can’t trust them to think for themselves, you’ve got to make the important decisions for them.
  • believe development is a linear process. You ignore unpleasant feedback. Rather than acting on it, you always stick to the plan, just like a politician in an ill-advised military quagmire.

If any of these descriptions are true for your organization—or for yourself—then you’re not ready for The GROWS™ Method yet.

How To Fail Spectacularly

Pit departments or projects against each other.

Demand agreement without supporting transparency or accountability from executives or team members.

Any of the following statements by stakeholders is a warning sign that perhaps you are at Stage Zero, and not ready to begin:

  • “We can’t possibly do that here.”
  • “We’ve never done it that way before”
  • “We did that once and it failed”
  • “That can’t work”

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