So, before I get pounced on by everyone, let me start my saying that I still like agile. Agile as in what some light-weight method folks agreed on at a ski lodge in 2001. The 4 values sure, but more so the opening clause and the 12 principles I still wholeheartedly agree with.
That being said, now that the word agile is mainstream, I don’t find orgs that are sticking truthily to agile’s roots to be the norm.
What I most commonly find is that "agile" means (what I call) “Scrum Masking”. This is where an org “adopts scrum” by means of changing or adding some new roles and ceremonies but mostly doesn’t change how it was working before.
And I don’t only see this with scrum. I’ve seen the same pattern in orgs where “scrum didn’t work” so they decided to use kanban instead. I’ve seen the same results in orgs where “scrum didn’t scale” so they decided to use SAFe instead. I’ve seen it happen in orgs that said they learned from all methodologies and created their own custom processes.
Now, you might be thinking “well sure, but that’s not agile”. And I agree that’s not what the creators of agile had in mind but it’s hard to argue that it’s not what the word agile has come to mean in mainstream application. I’ll let the philosophers debate whether a thing is what is was designed to be or what it has become. The fact remains when a company comes knocking for and “agile coach” or help with their “agile transformation” I usually have some non-positive, pre-formed expectations and I’m not typically wrong.
Some of these pre-formed expectations, the ones that bore me are:
- There is a hyper focus on doing the process “right”
- There is a lot of interest in standardization and tooling
- Agile is almost entirely contained within the IT department
- Agile is considered a mostly team level concern
However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There are some phrases, that when a company chooses to use them, I tend to see more liklihood for positive change. Some of these include:
- Help becoming product-led or improve product management
- Help with portfolio investment thinking and road mapping
- Help improve organization systems and design
- And sometimes (maybe 60%), improve business agility
Certainly these aren’t magic phrases that ensure everything will be shiny and perfect. All orgs have issues and improvement areas. But basically, it boils down to asking are we really about sensing and solving more holistic problems that have meaningful impacts on both the customer and the business. Or are we spending too much time working at doing some process “the right way”? While it's certainly possible to get to real improvement through process coaching on scrum, kanban, safe, etc, in my opinion it’s better to just think of those things as tools that may be used to uncover and improve on the real issues.
And again, many people would claim that’s exactly what those tools are meant to do...and again, I agree with that intention, I just don’t see that actually happening when the named tool or methodology is part of the engagement. And unfortunately the term agile just seems to have become the umbrella word for these methodologies.
As always, I’d enjoy hearing stories or experiences that conflict with this or support it. I’d enjoy insights on what others are seeing in terms of interest in real change to solve real problems.