Maybe we do need to “kill agile”. This statement has been flying around the internet and the Twitter sphere lately, with plenty of well informed, experienced and knowledgeable people jumping into the debate.
I understand why. There are Disturbing trends in agile adoption. The initial revolutionaries that wanted to focus on people ( the pre cursor to Human Centred Design?) from all accounts, including from them, intended the Agile Manifesto as a counter to the growing power of Industry Bodies. The engineered processes, standardised ways of working where people are interchangeable parts on the factory floor. Everything can be standardised and variance is to be avoided at all cots. But people are non linear and complicated,
The industry bodies are fighting back…
As the wave of change becomes unstoppable and their certification revenue streams are in decline those same Industry Bodies are learning and adapting, albeit slowly. Survival is at stake – and survival is optional. The new catch cry is “look at us we are agile too”. PMI now has an Agile certification. PRINCE2 is now agile ready. Please keep buying our licenses. We are you. We are relevant.
Management consulting firms are ploughing in with outlandish propositions based on just one verifiable use case of success that not only turned out to be a unicorn in its own company- it wasn’t company wide- that it’s not repeatable and even possibly regressing now 5 years in. They are proposing YOUR company implement organisational wide structural change to reflect a single agile model of a company that stridently claims it has no single agile model – though no one is listening. “Please don’t copy us even we can’t explain what we do”. And charging huge fortunes for the privilege. The lessons learned from companies trying to copy TPS and failing seem to have not transcended industries.
There are even suggestions that “agile” and even “innovation labs” are now being used as table stakes in greater strategic battles for control of large corporations. “My customer journeys are better than your delivery centres. Lets duke out the numbers”.
Where have we gone astray?
Agile was always by the people for the people . The peasants are revolting so to speak. Can’t have that. Hence the proliferation of “frameworks”, standardised playbooks and control driven centralised transformations as means to bring control back to those who were traditionally in control. But have lost much of that in the drive autonomous, self managed, self organising, sociocracy, holocracy type organisational structures,
I should know as a lifetime ago I was working for the “man”. In fact I was and always wanted to be the “man”. Not anymore though – except for the great, retained taste in suits and cufflinks, even with shorts, its quite a unique look.
I learned that any success I had was more due to having great people around me, of who’s work I knew little about and didn’t believe I had the right to direct, rather than anything I really did to pretend I was in charge to the sponsors. Even down to banning people from wearing red sneakers in the Institutional Bank office (Yes Julian you know who you are!).
As a program manager I did have the right to ask questions though, and as long as answers could be explained simply enough so that I understood they understood what they were doing, and that linked to our purpose, I became content. And as we delivered working products incrementally, return on investment was generated earlier, our customers showed how engaged and happy they were, I relaxed a lot more. This way of working just works. Everything about it just works. If you let it.
Know and measure how we are collaborating. Deliver earlier and for more value and reduced risk. Increase reflection of and elevate how we work. And improve. Heart of Agile is enough. Ri level thinking yes, but enough.
So how the hell do we clean up the mess we are in?
Are we in a repeatable cycle where we just have to wait for the turn-over of the latest crop of executives looking for the next shiny toy – as Dave Snowden posits?
Will the people prevail and survive the onslaught?
Have we created our own problems – be careful what you wish for?
Do we need our own Council of Nicea to finally slay the recalcitrant and unite under a single banner ? No more Framework wars, we are all part of the “agile empire”?
What do we learn and evolve to?
Many people are fighting a rearguard action to continue the focus on individuals and interactions, on customer collaboration, on actually delivering value and not wasting time and money, and on planning for change. Some are actually the original founding authors of the agile manifesto. Is it enough?
They all have value and I think Cockburn is right. We need to pare back to the centre of agile.
“Agile has become overly decorated. Let’s scrape away those decorations for a minute, and get back to the center of agile.”
Again from Alistair: “We selected four values, or ways of centering ourselves in the world while working. That is all. There is no more to agile software development than that. We added principles to help people get started”.
Use this. Live it. Believe it. Anything beyond these is someone else’s interpretation. for their context and for their problems. Definitely learn, but decide for yourself.
Agility is breaking out of the shadows of IT
This second wave of agile, what’s being termed organisational agility, is where our teams trying to be ‘agile’ are raising the problems organisationally of how we we work , much like agile methods are just a mirror for teams to see what’s broken. Agile never meant to be a silver bullet and fix things, but allow you a way to peer into the way you work and gather insights, and hopefully change the things you find that don’t work for you. As the teams reach the limits of their ability to influence change, it’s this next level of adoption that’s now critical. What’s preventing agility in organisations is not within the teams. It’s the way information and work flows to the teams; how they access resources and tools; how they can get closer to the real customer; even how their company incentives and KPis work. Its outside their control and its things the ‘traditional’ view that agile is just a software method cannot fix.
This is the new vacuum of power. The modern world demands the ability to respond fast to change. Digital Experiences received from one industry are crossing to others. The customer is the boss and their expectations have changed.
The timing is right and as the rebel alliance grows in power and influence it will ever so slowly creep into every process and rule of every company. CEOs and boards of banks and insurance organisations are touring digital music streaming companies to see how they work and trying to emulate what they think they see. Change has become too exponentially fast to ignore. Call it growing pains, call it fear , just call it out, with intent to be different, awareness of the current reality, and resilience to confront and challenge.
Human nature is still the same. Back when Toyota was the doyen of automobile manufacturing the other big auto makers would tour. Take photos.Replicate the plant layout. Replicate the Andon cords. Toyota didn’t care- they have been happy to share since the 1920’s. But no one ever quite got the culture and felt safe to pull the cord.
The risk in our industry is we have tribes everywhere, trains, guilds, squads, but no one feels safe to pull the Andon cord and stop the line. Or we get stuck in the trap that we think agile is just for ‘those technology teams over there’…
Good luck and may the force be with you.