Why is it that when the going gets tough, “agile” gets the blame? There is so much online bashing of [insert random agile framework or method] going on, that it made me wonder if there is a pattern behind it. I believe there is.
Where did “agile” start?
Agile is nothing new. The Agile Manifesto was drafted in 2001, distilled from new ways of working that were being practiced from the beginning of the 1990’s. The wisdom that is captured by the Agile Manifesto was nothing new either. A lot of the contents can be traced back to the great thinkers throughout the previous century, to whom I have paid tribute in this blog post. This is a painful observation by itself. For decades we know how we can develop organizations in a smarter and more effective way to deliver value, but captains of industry have failed to pivot. Only a handful were committed to embrace these beliefs back then, and 17 of them came together in 2001 and drafted the Agile Manifesto. So in that context I see the Agile Manifesto as an important reminder of common sense we often neglect in practice.
Why is it so difficult?
It is tough to apply these values and principles when we have to “run” an organization in the real world. Some might think it is enough to adopt a random agile way of work or practice. But you will only mature in an environment where you feel invited to experiment with new ways of working. The following aspects (and there are more) contribute to such an environment:
- Feeling trusted
- Able to be open to each other
- Being treated in a respectful manner
Why would any human being try something new when one or more of these ingredients are missing? Exactly, when their very existence or identity is in jeopardy. And this can be extrapolated to organizations.
You might not like what you uncover
We need to try new things and learn from whatever the outcome is. This learning capability is the key to continuous improvement and growing your agility. But it might reveal some things that have been swept under the rug for years. And when someone doesn’t want this to be revealed, the easy way out is to blame “agile” to cover up existing problems. It’s impossible to embrace agility when you are not willing to reconsider your current way of working, both in terms of behaviour and organization structure.
Or what I often see in practice, is that the people acting in and around the framework or method lack a proper understanding and misinterpret for example what is prescribed and what isn’t. How can you expect people to succeed if they didn’t get a proper education on how to use it? It’s like trying to master chess without being explained the rules correctly. I don’t care whether you apply Scrum, Kanban, SAFe or LeSS, it is easy to fail with any of them. It’s difficult to master them.
Agile bashing is a symptom
I don’t engage in online bashing discussions. Understanding of the context in which the dissatisfaction takes place is required to discover the problems underneath. This is nearly impossible to capture in superficial written comments, and cannot be generalized. As a consultant however, I am happy if this happens at my customer because it means it becomes clear there is something blocking their agile way of working. And I can start to help understand what it is. Dissatisfaction typically comes from an unfulfilled need. If you can identify this need you have something to work with.
Take a look in the mirror and learn
So I would like to invite you to reflect on your own behaviour. What did you bash lately about your agile way of work? What need do you have that remained unfulfilled in that situation? How could this need be fulfilled within the boundaries of the Agile Manifesto and framework or method? I would expect your Scrum Master (or agile coach) to be able to guide you in this process where necessary.
The problem usually isn’t rooted in the agile framework or method, but in the way it is interpreted and applied. It’s not fair to blame chess to be a bad game when you don’t understand the rules or when you are not ready to acknowledge you haven’t mastered it yet. Take a look in the mirror and be curious about what causes might be hidden behind the symptoms you have seen. Transparency, inspect and adapt.
You could argue that I am biased, and you are probably right. But I hope my opinion is nevertheless more valuable to share than to engage in online agile bashing discussions. Let’s build upon the ideas of others, that is the way forward I believe. Don’t blame “agile”.