Agile Missionaries vs. Agile Mercenaries

Podcast Ep. 166: Agile Missionaries vs. Agile Mercenaries with Buyi Kalala

Agile Missionaries vs. Agile Mercenaries
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Episode Description:

This week, Dan Neumann is joined by Buyi Kalala in today’s episode to explore the differences between Agile Missionaries and Agile Mercenaries, considering a missionary as someone who is there to help and assist the team on its journey, and a mercenary, who is paid to “hit,” reinforcing misconceptions, and even execute tasks that are not coherent with the agile values and principles.

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Key Takeaways

  • Agile Missionaries vs. Agile Mercenaries
    • Assist the organization in knowing what they don’t know, leading them into a new direction, a new way of operation
    • Sometimes organizations put all the responsibility on the agile coach when in fact it is their transformation, not the coach’s
  • The reaction to change
    • Planting the seed takes time, organizations need time to process and digest change
    • Sometimes there is resistance to change and in other cases, there is change fatigue
    • Sustainable change comes after a time-consuming process
  • Well-taken decisions will be celebrated while poor actions will also be exposed
    • Mistakes in the agile journey are opportunities to pivot
    • Sometimes it is easier to identify the “wrongful” behaviors rather than having the ability to catch the right decisions and be able to encourage them
    • Focusing on potentials and possibilities is the way to highlight the behaviors that are aligned with the agile culture
  • One-on-one conversations are crucially important
    • Introverts can have a hard time dealing with the face-to-face approach
    • Showing interest in the other person is necessary to achieve a common goal and be successful together
    • Think outside of the box and try to connect from the other person’s perspective
    • Practice patience and be curious (instead of judgmental)

Transcript [This transcript is auto-generated and may not be completely accurate in its depiction of the English language or rules of grammar.]

Intro: [00:03] Welcome to the Agile Coaches’ Corner by AgileThought. The podcast for practitioners and leaders seeking advice to refine the way they work, and pave the path to better outcomes. Now here’s your host, coach, and agile expert, Dan Neumann.

Dan Neumann: [00:17] Welcome to this episode, the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast. I’m your host, Dan Newman, and excited to have the second episode of the brand new year here with my colleague from AgileThought Buyi Kalala. Buyi. Thanks for taking the leap into the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast.

Buyi Kalala: [00:33] Thank you, Dan. Thank you for having me.

Dan Neumann: [00:35] Very excited too. And we getting together with you is a, a fun exercise and inspect and adapt. We got it. We’re gonna make this thing happen. And you, you actually proposed this topic and we were going to explore the difference between a couple different stances of approaching agility. And one was agile missionaries versus agile mercenaries, and that’s kind of a metaphor that you brought up as a candidate topic. So I’m curious what did you have in mind by using those two phrases?

Buyi Kalala: [01:05] So a lot of times in working with clients flipping flipping back and forth between being a coach and being a consultant are you actually being a, a missionary, someone that’s there to helping a system in their journey or are you just a, a paid I guess hit hit band or individual where you are just reinforcing some of the things that they have misconceptions about and executing things that might not necess translate to agile values and principles.

Dan Neumann: [01:46] That’s kinda interesting thinking about thinking about the different metaphors, cause sometimes I don’t know. I wonder, I wonder if it isn’t appropriate at times to call in the hit squad in a good way, right. To go to go rescue the hostage and save the day well.

Buyi Kalala: [02:01] And, and it’s, it’s it’s funny that you bring that, that term up because a lot of times I have to present that conversation to the table as far as are you focusing on pilots versus passengers or volunteers versus hostages when we’re making this this evolution within an agile journey in an organization? A lot of individuals tend to believe that there’s a certain type of understanding associated with agile and they make a lot of bold leaps and bold misconceptions associated with agile. And that’s when we find ourselves into some challenges as we start the implementation of turning the ship around and trying to adopt some of these different practices to assist a organization and how they are trying to turn into a learning and a innovative environment.

Dan Neumann: [03:05] Gotcha. And when you, when you talk about the, the missionary versus mercenary metaphor help me understand maybe the, the the preference you have for this setup and, and how to come in and maybe we can contrast that with the other, with the other side.

Buyi Kalala: [03:23] Okay. So I guess more specifically when we’re coming in you’re, you’re being hired or being brought in to assist a organization because at this point, typically they have they’re grasping, right? They are in a, in a space where they don’t know what they necessarily don’t know, and they are utilizing you to help lead them into a new, a new direction, a new way of operating. However they, a lot of organizations tend to delegate the responsibility of their transformation on that individual, that consultant that coach. And it’s not my particular journey. It’s not my agile transformation, it’s theirs, and they need to be the driver of that. But that also means that are they taking those necessary steps to educating themselves of exactly, what’s the purpose of this agile transformation in the first place? Have they taken the have they performed their due diligence of understanding exactly what work that they need to do as far as translating and crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of the misconceptions of what they thought agile it was, but understanding those different values and principles, the interpretations of that information, Scrum guide, whether it’s the Scrum guide and they’re utilizing Scrum or a Kanban guide, et cetera.

Dan Neumann: [04:57] Yeah. You, you bring up some interesting it’s of an agile journey where what is the outcome that a particular client is hoping to achieve? What are they willing to do from an investment of, of time and energy, political capital change management, what are they willing to do there and, and really take the accountability for their own transformation yet relying, obviously on outside expertise, it’s good that they reach out when they know there’s a blind spot that they, this might be their first or second attempt of the agile transformation. And hopefully they’re engaging with people who have seen multiple success and failure patterns and can bring in and, and be a guide can help evangelize if you will, if we’re using the, the missionary version, help evangelize for a different future state. But at some point it’s the, the heavy lifting. A lot of it is the accountability of the organization that wants to achieve these better outcomes.

Buyi Kalala: [06:05] Yeah. a lot of times there’s a, a get there quick idea and not really investing in the journey and thinking that agile is a destination, right. We’re talking about planning the seeds sometimes, and sometimes it, it takes time. Sometimes it’s a matter of letting that that letting that information digest with a lot of individuals and starting that process of those adjustments, making those changes. I think we talked about this maybe a little, little late last year, as far as the reaction to change. And sometimes there’s resistance to change in, in a lot of cases, there’s change fatigue. All of these different characteristic are things that you have to embrace on this agile journey, this agile adoption transformation, this evolution that you encounter when you make this pledge of operating differently. And that those are some of the, the characteristics that kind of align to that mercenary versus mission line of thinking from an agilist. So it it’s nothing that I think I, I, I, I take likely earlier in my career, I believe thinking that being the hammer to a nail to your point earlier and taking a step back because it is a very abrasive approach and it, it, it causes collateral damage. If you consistently try to do it that way,

Dan Neumann: [08:01] It’s interesting to think about though, the way services are used to being purchased and the way a lot of times services are used to being able to be delivered purchasing people are used to seeing go buy a package software, go engage with a vendor to deliver a particular outcome. And yeah, there’s some shared responsibility on both sides, but I don’t feel it’s nearly to the degree of shared responsibility that we get with an agile transformation. Like you can’t buy the agile, have somebody come in, install it quickly and be gone in 90 days, 30 days, 60 days. There’s some interesting Gartner information on organizations when they feel like they’ve been successful with agile here, one, two, and three along their agile journeys. And so really getting deep behavior change, realizing better outcomes for meaningful work. It’s it can be a very time consuming process and, and yeah, you can see some wins and, and you can have improvement quickly for sure. But it’s getting to the point where it’s sustainable, if the if the hired help, right. Goes away too soon, I’ve seen any number of agile transformations kind of implode because people revert to that, that old behavior.

Buyi Kalala: [09:27] And absolutely there’s a, the video of the, the backward bicycle where people revert back to their old habits they start back paddling to things that they are comfortable with, or they are accustomed to performing or doing. One of the, the big things that I’ve noticed is that within this agile culture, this agile philosophy you can’t get away from the transparency piece the, the transparency of utilizing agile, utilizing Scrum, Kanban, et cetera you can’t hide. So the things that you’re doing that helps you get you further within this journey, there will be celebrated, but also the things that you’re not doing are the things that are wrinkles to your agile journey. They’re, they will also be exposed. There’s no quote unquote blind spots if you’re doing it correctly, but that’s where you start the, the transition of the inspection and adaption of identifying those, those challenges and making the proper adjustments, utilizing this as an opportunity to pivot.

Dan Neumann: [10:40] Yeah, for sure. I think we, we talked about winning over hearts and minds a little bit just as we kind of think through this. And one of the ways that I’ve seen do that is, is catching people when they’re doing the good thing. You know, when it’s like that, that thing you just did there, that was a good, that was good. That was helpful. Right? That’s the behavior we want to see. And it’s I mean, I’m guilty of it. It’s way easier sometimes to find, oh, no, wrong. But, but when you see the thing, like the little sprout I live in the upper Midwest, it’s frozen outside right now, like in the spring, when, if you plant gardens, you see the little green shoot, you’re like, oh, there’s one, a little green shoot. I mean, it’s, it’s not fruit yet, but it’s the promise that someday there might be fruit. And, and I think that’s something with, with agile journeys too, start saying, okay, that behavior right there, that was good. That was helpful.

Buyi Kalala: [11:35] Absolutely. Really putting a focus on the, the, the, the possibilities and building upon that that, that consistent enablement of those, those habits, that, those behaviors that are indicative of what we’re trying to do from a agile cultural standpoint. I think when we continue to highlight the, the mercenary versus missionary perspective, coach versus consultant pilot versus passenger volunteer versus hostage really putting a focus on those things that are positive indicators of going in the right direction, really highlighting those things that are enabling good behavior, inclusive nature. Some of the things that will allow us to align as far as checks and balances against the agile values and principles. It, it’s, it’s difficult to your point to get away from being the negative Nate within those from a mercenary missionary perspective. But those are the things that people really gravitate to, especially when you start working with people and start if we’re talking about agile maturity Shu Ha Ri, graduating from having a face to face conversation to, to mind conversation to our heart, to heart type of connection with people.

Dan Neumann: [13:20]
I like it. Yeah. And maybe let’s pull on that thread, the, the face to face, mind to mind, heart to heart thing, the importance of one-on-one conversations, as you’re trying to win people over ultimately to a different way of, of thinking. Maybe you could expand on that.

Buyi Kalala: [13:33] So it’s funny you bring this up because it was a podcast that was saying, having a one on one conversation was that something that’s really necessary. And I, I had a reaction to that because I think that that’s still a critical part of coaching as far as having that one on one conversation with individuals to really try to, you know, deep dive with them, because it’s hard to make those type of connections with a group of people, especially for the introverts. Me personally, I, I definitely identify with being an introvert because, you know, this is the first time I talked to you or maybe second or third time we’ve even crossed paths. And I don’t necessarily feel comfortable telling my life story in front of a lot of people. So having that ability to, you know, break down some of those walls and Hey, I’m a, especially in this time of COVID and the pandemic. Yeah. I’m a real person. I, I, I’m generally interested in your point of view in trying to get your perspective on how we can actually move the needle and be successful together. So trying to do that, but it is difficult when you have a, a cast of people, you have different pressures that are coming on from, from other places and trying to you know dive into some delicate conversations that, you know, some people might not necessarily wanna have.

Dan Neumann: [15:18] Yeah. And even if they wanna have it, the other people might not give two hoots about it. And they’re like, my God, I’m in this meeting and listening these two, talk about that. It’s just, it’s not, not appropriate. So you did mention COVID and I figured I’m due for a coughing fit here at some point. Cause I, I actually did get the the COVID decided to come by and pay our house a visit fortunately, very mild. Right. I dunno. I got my vaccines, I got my booster still got the COVID, but it was extremely mild. So let’s put a bow on this one before. Listen to me, hack and cough here. Closing thoughts around missionary versus mercenary from your standpoint, what would, how would you wrap that up?

Buyi Kalala: [16:03] I guess really thinking outside of the box and being empathetic and looking at, looking at it from the up the person’s perspective, trying to connect from their perspective, putting yourself in their shoes, wherever they are within their journey, because typically there’s some baggage that has gone in their journey taking a look at it from that perspective and very lastly being very patient patience, patience. Ted Lasso, don’t be judgemental. Be curious.

Dan Neumann: [16:43] I, I love it. We’ll have to figure out where Hal got his poster and we can get you one of, get you a be curious Ted Lasso poster hanging on your wall behind you too.

Buyi Kalala: [16:54] Absolutely.

Dan Neumann: [16:54] Awesome. Well, Buyi, I do appreciate you taking some time here, getting together with me in a a COVID shortened episode to start off new year, but I’m looking forward next. One’s gonna be the, the podcast in, in all its duration. So look forward to collaborating with you again in the future, Billy.

Buyi Kalala: [17:15] Thank you a lot, Dan. I appreciate it. Anytime.

Outro: [17:21] This has been the Agile Coaches’ Corner podcast brought to you by AgileThought the views opinions and information expressed in this podcast are solely those of the host and the guests, and do not necessarily represent those of AgileThought. Get the show known to another helpful tips for this episode and other episodes at

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