Here’s a quiz for you. How does the first line of the Agile Manifesto begin? Let me help. It says, “We are uncovering better ways of developing software….” Stop. Notice it says, “developing software.” It does not say, “leaning out your org,” “paying down transformation debt,” “cutting it out with this command-and-control crap,” “focusing on outcomes and getting better at discovery work,” “fixing your medieval budgeting system,” or any of the other far more value-adding things people have tried to glom onto it. But the thing is, when people say that Agile pertains to the whole org, it’s revisionist history. It’s dishonest.
Notice too it begins, “We are uncovering….” It does not say, “We have received from on high….” The Snowbird signing of the Manifesto was not the work of lightening or the unseen hand. When are we going to stop pretending otherwise?
That was in 2001 and yet most large orgs are still stuck in 1987. We all have colleagues (usually leaders) who claim they “don’t have time to learn,” and you know what, they’re way too overconfident in what they think they know. Fast Company says the average CEO reads 60 books a year. How many books do your leaders read? Let’s get on board with continuous learning, and let’s stop pretending Agile was some sort of cure all.
The Agile movement made much of the thinking mentioned here possible. Agile practices were not invented by the Agile movement. They predate it by many decades. So, no, Agile is not going away. I just wish we could start being more realistic about it.
Agile is and always has been a local optimization providing little gain to the system. Agile was an attempt to, in the words of Ken Schwaber (see his “unSAFe at any speed”), “undo the damage that Waterfall had done,” and yet Agile never gave organizations a holistic, viable alternative to Waterfall. Because there’s a difference between theory and practice. Agile in practice is almost always AINO (Agile In Name Only). In practice we don’t see Agile teams inspecting and adapting. We see Agile teams adding increments from backlogs, futzing about with Jira and Rally and acting like they’re building brick walls wherever they’re told to.
The Agile trainers leave, having made things worse, with the managers speaking Pig Latin and the dev teams now speaking Esperanto. The teams think management is broken and management thinks the focus should still be scope and deadlines and efficiency. Well guess who’ll win? With one camp receiving performance reviews from the other? The way out is to recognize that the system is the team. Stop treating dev teams like they work in a factory. The same rules do not apply. We’re not running the same tried-and-true recipe. We’re designing recipes, that’s discovery work, not just delivery.
Another of Agile’s deep flaws. It assumes users will be OK with being treated like guinea pigs: “Here, just use this crap product then we’ll improve it.” Except it never happens. A neglect of discovery generates massive waste: Unused features and other work that doesn’t achieve outcomes.
The way out of the inane civil war is to teach people to generate options at all levels. The way forward is not “Agile vs. Waterfall.” It’s smart top-down Waterfall strategy work with bottom-up, empirically-driven tactics. Design and discovery work helps with all of this. The way out is a smart focus on clear outcomes, not output, with roadmapped outcomes replacing planned milestones, with trusted product teams, not project teams, empowered to vet assumptions and discover the minimal path to value.
Now get to learning. (Image adapted from John Cutler.)
This article has been paraphrased from an article by Charles Lambdin in Medium
Agile has ruled the imaginations and the conversation of the Project delivery world now for 18 years. It developed a cult like following and even developed a prescriptive wrapper for the Project management tasks. The underlying theme of this article is that Agile is not without its flaws and that we needs to adopt its advantages in local optimization and at the same time strengthening the Agile practice by keeping the strong points of the Waterfall methods.