Given his depth of experience implementing Agile & Scrum practices, Gil Broza is an advocate for an empathetic approach to bringing the right kind of mindset to a project. He's sharing his approach during the keynote presentation at The Path to Agility, taking place next week in Columbus.  


Gil Broza: Empathetically Agile
By Terreece Clarke, May 2nd, 2016

Gil Broza is extremely passionate about Agile coaching and one thing he wants Agilists to do is stop thinking of Agile as just a series of processes. He tackles this mindset and more during his keynote at the Path to Agility conference on May 25th.

“Almost everyone at the conference is already involved in Agile,” Broza said. “Most people equate Agile with a process… a set of practices and many of them genuinely believe that is all that is needed. There is all the thinking behind it. The mindset, what we are doing is what [and] why things look the way they look.”

Broza said, people need to understand the ‘whys’ behind the Agile processes and related his recent experience with running to how people can change their approach to Agile.

“I just came back from a 5k run. Five years ago that would have been an impossibility,” he said. “I came into running slowly, painfully… growing from something I just did for my health into something I look forward to doing.”

Broza said, deliberately making choices takes awareness - and that means taking the beliefs of organizations and helping them agree to deliberately operate in a different way. People can change their mindsets. Sometimes, they do that simply by engaging in new processes.

Broza also said, it is important for people who implement Agile in the workplace to understand the mindset behind the processes, so they can understand when and how to make changes when their prepackaged approaches don’t work. That happens often enough, Broza said, to make his job necessary.

“How do you make changes when Scrum doesn’t work? And how do you make sure the changes are Agile friendly? ...I like to do all this [analysis] without using the word, 'Scrum'. It has become associated with the one infallible way of doing Agile.

“A lot of people say, you have to do it this [particular] way; [but] Scrum practitioners can be either dogmatic or flexible,” he said.

Broza wants Agilists to understand that most people find the dogmatic approach doesn’t work. Most people simply don’t like it and need alternatives.

"You have to empathize with people who are afraid of learning something different or new, or who have to leave behind what they’ve known up to that point. You have to realize, they’ve made a significant investment in adopting the practices that have gotten them to where they are - it can be hard to let go.""

Understanding Empathy

It can be difficult to change people’s mindset once they have aligned themselves with a system, Broza said. Half of the people who seek him out are not open to alternatives. They ask him to, ‘make Scrum work for us’ - instead of finding out if it is what they really need. But overcoming resistance isn’t impossible. To do so, Broza employs something that is not always seen in business -- empathy.

“Empathy gets me a long way, because once people adopt a way of working, it becomes familiar, and they are comfortable,” he said.

"You have to empathize with people who are afraid of learning something different or new, or who have to leave behind what they’ve known up to that point," said Broza. "You have to realize, they’ve made a significant investment in adopting the practices that have gotten them to where they are - it can be hard to let go."

Broza also uses his natural curiosity with his clients. He said, being present with the person and team, asking questions and observing them, helps provide him with clues about how to help the team.

“My approach is to solidify their understanding so - at least if they stick to what they know - they know they are chasing it deliberately,” he said. “If every day they were faced with the consequences of that choice, eventually, the cognitive dissonance will begin to bother them.”

“No one will hear me say, Agile is right and waterfall is wrong,” Broza said. “It’s a matter of suitability. In most times, Agile is suitable - but that’s not a question of right or wrong. Thankfully, we have more options [compared to] 20 to 30 years ago.

Asking Broza to look into the future of Agile has him looking at long-term job security.

“I do suppose the problem I’m helping people with now will still be there because it actually goes back to something fundamental to how we work,” he said. “It’s much easier for us to learn skills and tools. We don’t think about things as much as we ought to and it gets us into trouble. Even before Agile - why wasn’t Agile invented earlier? Everyone was busy implementing projects using the popular techniques of the times, without much thought. We [now] have a bit more critical thought and will that change much in five years? Probably not.”

Critical Thoughts Bloom at The Path to Agility

The importance of critical thought in software development is part of the reason why Broza thinks conferences like the Path to Agility are important for practitioners.

“By in large, people get into Agile unassisted,” he said. “If you’re in an organization and you want to get into another way, you can send people to Scrum training, you might get an independent consultant, or you can read a book. When the rubber hits the road and questions come up, there is no one you can ask. There are not enough Agile coaches to satisfy demand and conferences are a way to learn more, ask questions and connect with people.”

“[Attendees] should ask questions,” he said. “You will absorb information better if you engage, whether the other speaker or attendees. Go to sessions that are experiential and get involved with self learning activities.”

Broza said the conference is not just for practitioners, but is also important for Agile coaches and consultants.

“At these conferences, the speakers usually are consultants. So, we get to help people and get to see what doesn’t work. The conferences are where all of this stuff takes place.”