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The A.P.I.A.M. – R.A.T.S. MODEL

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

AGILE vs AFRICAN & MIDDLE EASTERN CULTURE

A.P.I.A.M. – AGILE PRACTICE IN AFRICA AND MIDDLE EAST

R.A.T.S. – Religious Intrusion, Age Respect Paradox, Time Keeping Tradition and Secrecy Cult

Introduction:

Cutting to the chase this article is not attempting to propose a new MEA region Agile movement or a push for the abandonment of the current Agile principles (as feedback from its pre-posting conversations have suggested). Nonetheless, it’s an attempt to expose, albeit abruptly, the realities of Agile practice in African (mainly) and Middle eastern regions. A conscious pointing of the limelight on some very peculiar challenges that become obvious when Agile Transformation programs are implemented in non-western enterprises or organisations in these countries. It is my hope that, the learning points laid out here would help instill (in Agile enablers) some form of conscious awareness of the potential AGILE CULTURE BLOCKERS (R.A.T.S.) that exist in the course of an Agile Transformation or Business Agility implementation program in the organisations or private enterprises in these regions. Lastly, it is not an apology for the existence of the disconnect between African/Middle Eastern and the AGILE cultures, but, rather an attempt to emphasize my belief that, for the gospel of Agility to be effectively evangelized in Africa and the Middle East, there needs to be a deeper understanding in:

1. Recognizing firstly, the existence of these A.P.I.A.M. - R.A.T.S. © 2020 Victor Nwadu (Blockers) and…

2. Recognizing the GAP existing between what may be perceived as “Agile Transformation challenges” by western trained Agile enablers operating in MEA countries AND the indigenous clients/delegates view of these same “Challenges” as “Business As Usual” practices (even when it’s clear that these practices generate lean types of WASTE (MUDA) or don’t facilitate any positive economic value whatsoever).

The models derived from this article are dynamic, therefore, may change as the Agile movement gains traction in MEA regions whether as it is now, or as a hybrid template for these regions. I have deliberately avoided the temptation of discussing ways around these challenges as I know from experience that, there are no one-size-fits-all solution in Agile practice and cultural realities are different for each organisation. However, successful real-life solutions do exist and will be published in due course.

History:

If we are being honest, the AGILE Manifesto was not developed with Non-Western cultures in mind. My assumptions are that the principles behind the manifesto were themselves molded from the aggregate experiences of all the signatories gathered from their time with western enterprises or organisations and with western leaders or teams… all within an external mainstream western culture environment. This, however, present some “Atypical” Agile culture facilitation challenges in both a western and non-western business entity or organisations located in non-western regions like in Africa and the Middle East. 


At this juncture I feel it will be helpful to state what I mean when I talk about the various culture types and their interactions in the model (Fig 1). This model assumes two kinds of culture existing simultaneously within the environment of most organisations or business entities, (a) the organisation’s internal culture and (b) the external indigenous culture of the region where the organisation (western or indigenous) is located. 

Pre-posting feedback have criticized R.A.T.S. blockers as no different from those in the west or those in Asian regions, citing the listed challenges are due to the struggle between OLD enterprise habits against the new Agile ways of working and that the solutions are merely in the enabling of change in the MINDSET of the enterprise or organisation. Whilst I agree that enabling the Agile Mindset is the holy grail of any Agile transformation which usually involves enabling change within the organisation’s culture. However, the external culture of the region which the organisation is located, has a massive intrinsic influence on the habits, behaviour, belief systems and values of local individuals working in the organisation. So that, when there’s a valid disconnect between these two cultures, in order to enable internal cultural change, the structure of the external culture and their influences on the workers in the organisation, needs to be fully understood at a very deep level. More so, at one extreme, where the organisation is a Non-western enterprise operating in a Non-western region like Africa and the Middle east, less so when the organisation is a Western business entity in a western region at the other extreme (See Fig 1).


Fig. 1 - The A.P.I.A.M. Model © 2020 Victor Nwadu


The results in terms of the ease of the Transformation journey, assuming Transformations in western regions are “Typical”, are two kinds of “Atypical” journeys as seen in Fig 1. 


Atypical 1 is usually a scenario of a western styled Software Development or Innovative Start-up business entity, with very young and driven teams made of local workers. They usually have had some form of Agile knowledge or have heard of Agile. Even when none of the above is the case, they are hungry to learn and see themselves as the selected privileged few lucky enough to have a job or are personally invested in the start-up and are therefore fully committed to anything that will add to their chances of succeeding as a new business.


Businesses like these tend to follow a win/win position in their Agile journey by adopting agility and picking ONLY those cultural habits that compliment Agile culture and as a result may or may not adopt a Hybrid Agile MINDSET depending on all sorts of reasons for example, the international exposure and change tolerance of their Leadership. 


Atypical 2 is a scenario where a genuine indigenous non-western organisation like a government university, hospital, military personnel and Finance office or ministerial department operating in a non-western MEA region. These types of organisations or business entities are characterized by tall management structures, complicated silos, are unionized with a very strong national political affiliations, and a leadership structure where the average age is never less than 50 years old. Their internal culture usually consists of various and much more powerful subcultures based along ethnic lines, silo boundaries or interest groups. What is more, is that, the weak official internal culture has little or no barrier against the dominant external culture. The external culture is dominant in this case because, it’s made up of multiple subcultures from the multiple ethnic groups as is often found in countries of this region…this is the main challenge for a western culture based AGILE MINDSET transformation and it can be COMPLICATED.

Successful Agile transformations often, adopt some form of HYBRID Agile culture as there are usually trade-offs around the acceptance of the Agile Mindset within teams and leadership, at least at the early stages. Early wins and tangible improvements that can be tracked are an excellent way of achieving full buy-in that would clear the way to scale the transformation moving forward.

A.P.I.A.M. R.A.T.S. © 2020 Victor Nwadu   


Religious Intrusion

It’s very clear now of how big or important RELIGION is to a typical African or Middle eastern individual. So, it will be of no surprise to see that it plays a part in defining the habits of indigenous workers, professional or business leader whether they work in a westernized cultured organisation or in an organisation with a predominantly non-westernised internal culture. However, there has been over the last three decades, what I consider to be an “intrusion” of religiosity into the modern place of work culture in MEA region. You now have situations where provisions are made for short religious practices in work event schedules. Some organisations have a mandatory prayer session before and after every single event and in an Agile environment that practices scrum, for example, a framework that ties its success to strict TIME BOXING of all its events, it becomes very clear how this prayerful habit would not align with Scrum events like a Scrum Stand Up meeting or Review meetings. I have heard of Stand Ups starting with prayers and in some cases members of different religious affiliations have deliberately arrived 5mins late to avoid the prayer sessions, until it became an issue that had to be raised. It becomes more complicated if the teams are dispersed in various parts of the country where there are clear religious boundaries.


Age Respect Paradox 

Respect for the ELDERLY is another good but STRICT moral practice in MEA regions that has permeated into the place of work where its strict practice becomes an issue when leadership positions are held by a young person or where the visiting consultant is very young and the leadership are relatively much older. There is some form of dysfunction of entitlement that arises in the mindset of the older junior staff or team member or leader that must take instructions from a younger manager, leader or consultant respectively. They usually feel they are wiser and that their opinions should be given much more attention simply because, older is automatically tied to being wiser in these regions. The dysfunction works the other way round where staff members or teams mates can’t interact the way they would with colleagues of the same age group – For example interacting with an elderly colleague on first name basis can be regarded as disrespectful even in western cultured Atypical 1 type organisations in MEA regions. These seemingly moralistic habits are not necessarily aligned in practice with an Agile culture that demands Equity in decision making, constant Face to Face communication and requires task allocation to be based on current capacity of each team member and not their age or for the Scrum master to worry whether his facilitation technique or decisions will upset members of a certain age in the team. In one team at a major bank in Nigeria, an elderly team member was upset for not been made team lead of the team he felt were almost the same age as his first child. He went on to create a toxic environment that made it difficult for the new team lead to facilitate events for the team.


Time Keeping Tradition (African Time)

The mere fact that there is a nickname (African Time) for this culture is an indicator of how ingrained in the psych of the African culture and how complicated an attempt to facilitate mindset change in Africa can be, especially as “African Time” refers to being “Fashionably” late. However, African time takes the amiable side of “Fashionably late” to a dysfunctional level where lateness can vary from 15mins to hours. It’s obvious how Scrum will struggle in its early stages in an organisation where this culture or tradition has been left untamed. This wouldn’t really be an issue in the west as attending professional events on time is the expected behaviour. However, this is not necessary frowned upon in Africa and therein lies the challenge, where at its worst, thousands of productive man hours are lost, therefore, reducing planned Return on Investment by millions of dollars.


Secrecy Cult

There is a very high tendency for secrecy in African cultures for all sorts of reasons ranging from ethnic sentimentality, irrational fear of exposure to paranoia and superstition. A deeper dive into the why is slightly beyond the scope of this article, however, there are very tangible evidence that this culture exists in all aspects of Business and government organisations (even the military). In Agile practice where Transparency is a major pillar of, it’s clear there will be a major misalignment in an Agile transformation engagement with organisations and business entities like these.


These are the Four major cultural traditions and behaviour in MEA regions that are unaligned with the Agile mindset. There may still be others, however, at this present moment, these are the major ones that currently express themselves as BLOCKERS to Agile transformation (and possible showstoppers) if not facilitated effectively by well trained, prepared or experienced Agile (teams and leadership) coach. I share many case studies and I post them as metaphorical anecdotes on LinkedIn. Documented success stories and Coaching triumphs over A.P.I.A.M. R.A.T.S. in MEA regions are shared and discussed in the masterclasses I run for individual Agilist, Agile teams, leaders and business stakeholders engaged in Agile Transformation or Business Agility programs in MEA regions. I also work with major international Agile organisations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East by way of Agile Transformation programs, seminars, Big room training events and my packaged “Agile Basics” training for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches through my consultancy The Q-Platform www.theqplatform.com and offer on the job support (with other members of my team) at WakandAGILITY www.wakandagility.com for more information please feel free to contact me at Vnwadu@Outlook.com


A.P.I.A.M. R.A.T.S. © 2020 Victor Nwadu

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