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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Reeve

How Agile supports diversity

This weekend, I watched the movie Just Mercy, the powerful story of young defense attorney and co-founder of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson, who travels to Alabama to meet with death row inmates. Set in the late '80s and early '90s, we witness the same injustices toward the African American community that are being protested in the streets today. Arrests for little to no reason, a rigged justice system, and excessive use of force.

What does this have to do with Agile?

Systemic racism can only exist when the same set of beliefs and behaviors travels from one generation to the next, going unquestioned. Even though the sheriff in Just Mercy, "Sheriff Tate," was clearly an instigator of injustice, he was re-elected for 30 years after the story took place, retiring in 2019.

Again, what does that have to do with Agile?

Agile, at its best, supports diversity, including BLM. It can be an equalizer, providing room for new ideas, new ways of thinking to emerge, new voices to be heard and action to be taken. Let's say we were practicing enterprise-level Agile, and, in the retrospective, the teams indicated their biggest improvement item included one around dismantling hiring bias. (After all, After all, 76% of the U.S. population say racial discrimination is a big problem, up from 51% in 2015 (Vox)).The improvement item was suggested by multiple teams, perhaps being submitted and voted on in an anonymous manner, to surface the issue in a way that didn't single out an individual.

Management may have had several other priorities, and, left to #siloedthinking, might have pursued one of those. But because Agile supports #transparency and #continuousimprovement, the issue was surfaced and votes indicated a majority of teams want to address the issue.

Then, the hard part begins. In SAFe, after identifying an improvement item, we would conduct an Ishikawa, or Fishbone diagram to identify one or more root causes. Is the issue caused by people, processes, environmental or other factors? What is the biggest root cause? What actions could we take to address the root cause? How can we break down the work to make the most progress in the least amount of time?

With actions identified, we get to work addressing the issue at hand - in this case, hiring bias.

With injustice top-of-mind for so many, what would happen if Agile enterprises all over the world used this approach to address institutional racism? What if Agile teams were empowered to act at all levels of the organization? What if governments and communities worked together to make all voices heard and action taken?

What can you do as an Agile leader to empower your organization to change?

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