Charging forward vs. Throwing in the Towel


(felt like it was time to start a new fiery thread here!)

After participating in 5 agile transformations over the past 12 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that each organization’s adoption is like a latex balloon inflating outward from it’s point of sponsorship into the rest of the organization. At some point, that latex balloon will fill the box until it hits boundaries of resistance… and with time and coaching, that balloon will either push through that boundary and continue to expand, or it will pop and change agents move on (very rarely do invested agile practitioners become tolerant of “good enough” and stop putting air in the balloon). If we’ve done a good job, hopefully a large percentage of the gains made will be retained and create a better space for those who do stay behind (this is how I’ve reflected on my past experiences and measure my success).

My question is, how do you know the difference between investing time and pushing forward, vs. seeing the writing on the wall and throwing in the towel? If you give up too easily, you don’t learn, you don’t become a better change agent, you don’t foster the next generation of great people. But if you hang on too long, you get exhausted, worn down, pessimistic, and sometimes even minor PTSD, making the next venture harder.

This isn’t a question for me personally trying to decide to stay or leave my current organization (dear boss, in case you see this), but a question that falls at multiple levels of the coaching role! It could be abstracted to career path choices, but I also see this on the micro level at individual decisions (fight for pair programming vs. accepting it’s a lost cause here). Right now, I’m in an organization that has regionally adopted agile, but not globally. I’m pondering this question as it relates to my ability (capacity and experience) to inflate that balloon into a group that is culturally not well suited for agile (yet) but needs to interface with one that is. (I’m also advocating for a “me” to be hired in that region instead.)

So… ignore my specific situation if you can, I’m not looking for situational advice, but more curious about abstracted philosophy. I’m curious to hear from other agile change agents in the field…

  • How does this question apply on the job decision level?
  • How does this question apply to you within the organization you are coaching as you push certain practices decisions?
  • When do you hold your breath and pause “pumping air in the balloon” to let things solidify before pushing again?
  • What has history taught you?

(also, could this be a podcast episode topic?)


Oooh, this is a good one and def a potential podcast! If we do an episode can you join us?

@andycleff @Leanleff @cusack @Scrummando @troy this topic is right in your wheelhouse(s)…care to jump in?


Wow! Great questions, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the topic in a podcast. I was asking myself those same questions just a few months ago, in fact. In my case, I stepped away from my role as the lead Scrum Master for a start up here in the Valley and began a new journey with LinkedIn. Knowing which is the right decision to make requires a magic 8 ball, some luck, and some self-doubt since we can’t compare with the future holds for all paths.


I would definitely consider it! I just have to be careful about not talking specifics about my current employer! :wink:


Yes yes yes.


Those interested in being part of the panel discussion podcast, please add your name here.

We’ll schedule down the road a bit; our production team is trying really really hard to be good agilists and manage our WIP…


This is an excellent topic. I’m in a transition point in my work atm, so can completely identify with the issue. However, I’m much further down the food chain.

I would add the question, “What are the system conditions that triggered you to evaluate your ongoing effectiveness?” or rather “Why are you feeling that the balloon pumping has reached or is reaching its limits?”

It can help inform the decisions that follow. It allows for a greater honesty (hopefully) on the emotional state whether you are “pushing” too hard, whether the conditions are internal/external etc.

Thank you for the question.


I’ve always been a change agent, well before the Snowbird coining of the term ‘Agile’ and what we now term ‘Agile Transformations’ or ‘Digital Transformations’. Startups of my own or others, big and/or old company transformations, e.g. The longest I’ve ever worked for someone else is 3.5 years, not counting my own ventures. Give me the tough change moments; steady state just isn’t for me.

I can only stomach 18 months of status quo. If we can’t move beyond the organizational impediments in that time frame or less, I move on. There’s an old sales adage, SWSWSWN: Some Will. Some Won’t. So What? Next! It’s not that I don’t care, but life is too short.

Go where you are called to be. Someone needs what you have to offer. If you’re being viewed as the enemy in a place you are sincerely trying to improve, that’s just bad for everyone. Leave the Lose-Lose and find your Win-Win.


Weiss and Morrison just released a new research paper on the value of “Speaking Up”


A central argument in the literature on employee voice is that speaking up at work carries image risk. Challenging this assumption, we propose that voice can in fact positively affect how employees are viewed by others, thereby enhancing their social status. Using theory on status attainment and the fundamental social perception dimensions of agency and communion, we suggest that employee voice will result in higher status evaluations by increasing the extent to which an employee is judged as confident/competent (agency) and other-oriented/helpful (communion). We conducted a survey study and two experiments to test these hypotheses. The results supported our predictions. Employees who voiced were ascribed higher status than those who did not, and this effect was mediated by judgments of agency (in all three studies) and communion (in two studies). These results highlight the implications of voice behavior for status enhancement within organizations. Key words: employee voice; proactive behavior; social status; agency and communion

Relates to The (Psychological) Safety Dance

WeissMorrison_2018-Voice Social Status.pdf (423.2 KB)

My conundrum: Speak up or walk away…


It’s so hard, isn’t it? I admit, I recently took the leap for a host of triggers, but it came down to some pretty simple things in the end.

We have a few people on here mentioning they are thinking about similar things. I think we all hit crossroads. How do we know when to drive through, move on or hang on?

Personally, I value loyalty and my team. Therefore, I probably hang on too long. Not good or bad, just me.


So… I suppose “it depends” :smile:

What is your quest? Are you shotgunning agility, trying to spread it as far and wide as it will go, or are you sniping it, hoping for it to be maximally effective in your local context?

The shotgun approach would dictate you give it a good whack, and move on if you meet too much resistance. Planting the seeds, building a “cadre”, and hoping they’ll manage to go the distance.

The sniper approach would point to going all in - keep pushing until you succeed, or get canned. Tactical pauses, sure - people take time to adjust to change, and there is such a thing as change “indigestion”, but ultimately, reinforcing success and pivoting around resistance will be your key tactics.

The bulk of my scattershot and pathologically eclectic experience points towards the anecdote that you will continue to see changes and stirrings in a still-viable transformation, even when you stop “pumping air”. Viability has momentum. If it all screeches to a halt… it may be time to ask yourself difficult questions.