This is your chance to hear about the Ugly harsh realities, the Bad
news and the Good opportunities for Agile. In many ways this concludes
the past months series on Agile Culture.
Stop reading now if you want to take the blue pill
and ignore the harsh realities of the Agile industry.
Along with a menagerie of problems, the vast majority of so-called “Agile Coaches” are unconsciously incompetent with
respect to adopting and transitioning to Agile and a wider toolkit is
called for in many situations. But there’s hope for us all: we can stop
the madness by changing our outlook and learn the tools at hand to turn
this industry around.
The Ugly: Harsh Reality
Failure is now commonplace
There is a lot of failure and no shortage of lesson’s learned. Check out Google for top 10 lists on failure
. And then of course there is Ken Schwaber’s infamous quote
“75% of those organizations using Scrum will not succeed in getting the
benefits that they hope for from it.” (I am in fact misquoting him but
will do so anyway since he understates the problem). Of course there is
my own informal study
Agile is an idea, not a product
Many of us in the community have misunderstood that Agile is largely an idea disguised as a process (See Doing Agile isn’t the same as being Agile
Transforming companies to a new mindset is much much harder than
adopting a process. Real success requires more than an accidental
approach to adoption.
Post-Chasm Most Companies want a quick fix
Agile is post chasm and it’s painful (See Post-Chasm Agile Blues
Rare and far-between are the companies that have a strategic focus in
adoption Agile where top company priorities are tied Agile delivery
success. Often there is little buy-in to make undertake changes to
really make Agile work.
Agile only fits in some company cultures
The sad truth is that Agile doesn’t fit all company cultures
Agile is about collaboration and cultivation while many companies are
dominated by control culture. So, many Agile adoptions in progress right
now are going to fail for this reason.
The Bad: Wake-up call for Coaches
Unconscious Ingnorance – where the majority of coaches are right now
As the ranks for so called Agile coaches has grown, I
would argue that many do not really understand Agile very well (due in
part to Semantic Diffusion). This is sad, but there is something worse:
Among those who understand it reasonably well, the vast majority are in
what I consider to be unconscious incompetence with regard to helping organizations with Agile. This is not a random insult, but a wake-up call.
It could be argued that many are just at the Su level of Shu-Ha-Ri,
and there is no need to be so negative. However, there is a step before
Shu where someone does not know about or have interest in a particular
skill – accidental is perhaps a more gentle word than unconscious incompetence.
I thought a lot about where to draw the red line. I think that
mostly the community is is at the unconscious incompetence level with
only a small number beyond this. Although there are some thought leaders
sharing valuable insights, there is no coherent message that people
agree on. We need to shift the curve to the right perhaps through a
shaping meme in the Agile community. My hope is that this post will help
Looking from a perspective of culture and the levels of failure, I think strong language is required for a wake-up-call and call to action.
The days where we pretend that Agile is the greatest things since sliced bread and we can just drop it in to any company are over.
Sorry, you need more tools
The skills required to be a good Agile Coach are
immense. The best coaches are constantly learning and know that they
have to be very selective in what knowledge to pursue. For example, see Agile Skills Project
for skills just needed to use Agile, not to coach organizations. Mike
Cottmeyer has a very broad list of tools that go waaaaay beyond Agile in
12 Key Knowledge Areas
. What’s missing in all this?
The Good: Tools for success
First step is understanding
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single
step – Lao-tzu. And that first step is to honestly reflect on what is
happening in your world. For many, this will be a red pill, blue pill
moment – except that this time its about you and not your client.
Look at the big picture
Understanding the company culture using the Schneider Culture Model
or other model is critical. This can be used to inform whether to use
an adoption approach or a transformation approach. Israel Gat argues
that “Long-term Agile sustainability requires all four dimensions —
benefits, risk mitigation, strategic business value, and culture — to be
addressed.” (Concise Executive Guide To Agile
). Work towards making Agile one of the top 3 company priorities or stop. Agile readiness assessments
play a big part but this body of knowledge still needs development.
Use an Explicit Transition Model
In an earlier post, I outlined different adoption and transition models
. It is critcal, that everyone know and understand the approach that is used and what the goals are.
Consider Kanban and Craftsmanship
Kanban is a great way to start chipping away at years of process atrophy and dysfunction. It fits well with control cultures
that dominate the IT scene. This is a good thing and meant in a positive sense - Kanban is like an Oreo Cookie
Dark Crunchy Control on the outside, but Sweet White Goodness
(collaboration, cultivation and craftsmanship) on the inside! So for
those hard-core Scrum-heads or Agile zealots – let it go – Kanban is the
only way to help many companies. And attempting Agile in those places
will just bring harm to all involved.
Competence culture has always been part of eXtreme
Programming (XP), but has been washed out of Agile culture by the
success of Scrum. Much of the technical emphasis has subsequently been
developed into the Craftsmanship movement
. Many companies are well suited to improving technical practices, so why not start there? Yup. That’s the opposite of Scrum.
Just Say “no”
With the understanding above about what successsful
Agile is and the conditions for success, it is clear that many Agile
adoptions may be better off halted and others not even started.
For people who work professionally as coaches and
whose livelihood depend on maladapted Agile, the way to help themselves
and to help their clients is to do something different that will work or
Agile makes the world a better place
What’s your play book?
For a change agent or coach, where are you right
now? Where do you want to be in 3 months? What are you going to do to
For sure some readers will be thinking “This doesn’t apply to me, I’m in the consciously competent category!”. In this case, please share your stories of success and how you get there.
Thanks for taking the red pill …