The Difference Between Agile and Sabotagile

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The Difference Between Agile and Sabotagile

Ravi Verma explains why his bad experience with a gym membership reminds him of the relationship that some CXOs have with their employees.

· Agile Zone ·
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OK, so this will be an awkward (and maybe cringe-inducing) post. However, we are approaching the new year. Plenty of people might be making new year resolutions. Many will be around fitness. Everyone needs to read this.

I was once really impressed by 24 Hour Fitness. I used to see their ads on TV and watch super fit, muscular people coated with sweat leave the neighborhood location as I was ordering Jalapeno Poppers from Jack in the Box. I used to imagine the mind-boggling array of fitness machines inside the location. I used to think of being motivated by a master of contradictions, oxymoronic Mother Theresa drill-sergeant fitness instructors. So, finally, I did it! I got myself a gym membership.

However, I was very disappointed with the results. At the risk of being sued by 24 Hour Fitness (I will create a Go Fund Me campaign to pay the legal bills) I will tell you the truth.

After months of membership, there was no change in my physique. I did not have one new muscle or one new iota of fitness. None of the coaches or sophisticated machines helped me. I was just the same. They had no trouble hitting my credit card every month, but there was no ROI. I was very disillusioned with the whole fitness industry. They were just con artists exploiting the vulnerabilities and desires of innocent hard working people like me.

Oh, BTW, did I tell you that I never once went to the gym? I wanted to be like the cool kids and if anyone asked me if I work out, I wanted to tell them something evasive but not completely untruthful like:

“I have a membership at 24 Hour Fitness. It's really close by.”

“I really like the ambiance at 24 Hour Fitness.”

“I will probably work out at 24 Hour Fitness this weekend.”

I just didn’t want to feel left behind or sound uncool when I was hanging out with the cool kids, but it was too painful to actually get up and go to the gym, especially when I could have a nap or watch TV. However, I liked having the option so that some day, if I really wanted to, I could go to the gym.

This reminds me of the relationship many CXOs have with Agile.

Agile Memberships

They buy an expensive Agile membership by paying the monthly fees for Agile tools (Rally, VersionOne, JIRA, etc.), by hiring Agile Coaches, by sending people to Agile Training, by re-naming Project Managers as Scrum Masters and Business Analysts as Product Owners. This way, they can still hang out with the cool kids and if anyone asked about Agile, they could say something evasive but not completely untruthful like:

“We are Agile – we have <Rally/VersionOne/Jira/etc.>.”

“We are Agile – we have Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, and Product Owners.”

“We are Agile – we just sent a bunch of people to Agile training.”

They wouldn’t have to change the way they think or behave, just change the way they talk and add a monthly auto-payment to the company’s credit card payment, so they could sound more “Agile”.


The more time I spent with executives like this, the more commonalities I observed between them. I realized that their behavior was more likely to help their companies in Sabotaging Agile than in being Agile. I captured some of these ideas in a blog last week. The blog introduces the unifying guiding values and principles of this group of people via the Sabotagile Manifesto and Sabotagile Principles. Let me paste them here for quick reference…

Manifesto for Sabotagile Software Development

We are uncovering better ways of

faking Agile Software development,

defending the status quo, and

advancing our careers.

Through this work we have come to value:

Defining rigorous processes with Milestones, Phase Gates, and Audit Trails

Tracking project and program progress with Gantt Charts, %-age completion reports, and Red-Yellow-Green executive dashboards

Holding resources accountable with baseline contracts with fixed-scope, fixed-dates, fixed-costs

Preventing a descent into chaos with rigorous change control boards

Integrating phrases from flavor-of-the-decade fads into lingo without changing behavior

This is how we have delivered software in the real world for decades.

And this is how we are going to do it!

Principles Behind the Sabotagile! Manifesto

We follow these principles: Our highest priority is to have resources deliver on scope, on time, on budget.

Rigorously control deviation from plan to prevent resources from wriggling out of commitments and to prevent business from moving the goal-posts.

Increase efficiency from resources through economies of scale, phase gates, and large batch sizes.

Use proxies between business people and resources, enabling business people to be externally focused and do real work.

Use management oversight, performance objectives, and bell-curves to maximize output from resources.

Use documents and e-mails with audit trails as primary means of communication with resources.

Executive dashboards are the primary measure of progress made by resources.

Resources work late nights, weekends and cancel vacations to meet deadlines.

Resources meet commitments by delivering to production and then patching with Agile fast-followers as needed.

Leverage economies of scale by having resources deliver as many features as possible in each release.

Hire smart technical leaders to come up with architecture and design that junior resources can implement.

Provide a sense of freshness to resources by integrating buzz words from latest fashionable flavor(s) of the decade into process and procedures manuals, training and executive communication without changing our way of thinking and behaving.

Conduct post-mortems with resources at the end of projects if time allows, as long as it does not interfere with resources doing real work.

If you would like to compare and contrast Agile and Sabotagile manifesto and principles, check out my Slides on Slideshare.  

Test-Driven Coaching

That was the easy part. Now for the hard part.

How can we make Managers, Directors, VPs, SVPs, and CXOs understand the difference between what they say (Agile) and what they do (Sabotagile)? Management is usually super busy doing “real work” and has too short an attention span for conversations like this. Fear not – I have the perfect solution – the Sabotagile Quotient, which we will explore in the next article.

Until then, please discuss with your teams and management and let me know what you think.

agile, agile adoption, agile manifesto

Published at DZone with permission of Ravi Verma , DZone MVB. See the original article here.

Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.

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