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The parable of the pink sticky notes

Once upon a time, there was a consultant who made himself the guru of pink sticky notes.

This consultant traveled the world promoting the use of pink sticky notes as the key to business success. He wrote a best-selling book on why and how everyone's business should use pink sticky notes. On the basis of his book—with accompanying TED talk, naturally—he was hired by companies to come in and restructure their business so they could crush their competition by means of effective pink sticky note use.

When this consultant would start a gig with a new client, the first thing he would do would be to spend six weeks evaluating how the client was currently using pink sticky notes and write a report to senior management based on what he found. He would then create a two-year plan with three phases—always three phases—for how best to introduce pink sticky notes into the organization, from the C-suite all the way down to the lowliest intern.

This consultant would develop and deliver training on the proper use of pink sticky notes. He would also provide team-level and one-on-one coaching on how to use pink sticky notes most effectively. All this training and coaching kept him very busy.

Of course you need metrics to manage a pink-sticky-note transformation, so the consultant created detailed charts and graphs showing the number of teams he trained, the number of pink sticky notes used by the organization (with pink-sticky-note data per business unit, broken down all the way to the team level), along with his assessment of how closely each team was adhering to pink-sticky-note best practices. He would make graphs with trend lines on them, showing the rate of progress with respect to how well the pink sticky note transformation was going in the organization.

For the most part, these metrics would look great. Change is difficult, though. In every organization he consulted with, certain people wouldn't see the connection between the use of pink sticky notes and business success. These people were labeled "late adopters" in his reports. Privately, he would call them "resisters".

The consultant would handle these resisters more or less skillfully depending on how savvy he was politically within the organization. Some resisters would end up being fired (though not many). Some resisters would get fed up and quit. Most, however, remained where they were in the organization, secure in the knowledge that when it came to pink sticky notes, this was just another management fad that would pass like so many fads before had passed.

And it turns out these employees were right. When the pink sticky note consultant would leave an organization, in six months, half of the teams would have stopped using pink sticky notes. In a year, the consultant's legacy in the organization would be stored in supply closets and desk drawers all over the building: piles of unused pink sticky notes.

If your Agile transformation is focused on Agile, you have already lost.

Here's the lesson of the pink sticky notes: nobody cares about Agile. Heck, even I don't care about Agile, and I'm an Agile coach.

If you center your Agile transformation around standups and demos and training and coaching and burn-up charts and story point estimates and all the rest of that Agile furniture, at some point peoples' curiosity about who you are and what you are selling will run out. At the end of the day, you will be left with nothing to show for your hard work, because none of your hard work affected anything that anybody really cared about. It was all just pink sticky notes.

Agile is not the point. Agile was never the point. Agile is simply a means to an end.

Maybe you want to reduce time-to-market for new features. Maybe you want to decrease time between releases. Maybe you want to increase your system's quality or increase employee satisfaction. Those are meaningful goals. People care about them, and Agile has some useful things to say about all of those.

But stay away from Agile-for-Agile's-sake. Pink sticky notes don't matter.