Monday, April 21, 2014

Are there any drawbacks to agile?

I was taken aback with my response to a perfectly reasonable question. Are there any drawbacks to agile?

A binary question, to which I responded, appropriately.  “Well, yes there are.” Then I paused. The audience was not satisfied, and my head was swelling with the conversations I have on a daily basis about the strategic challenges of agile. So, I went for a divergent and long-winded (for me) answer:

“The software development community is divided on the ultimate efficacy of agile. There has been research that shows that agile development projects improve speed and quality. But, there has not been enough research over a long period of time to convince everyone.

“The popularity of Scrum, which has become a cottage industry for charismatic, book-writing consultants, has inculcated some misconceptions which have undermined, ironically, the case for agile. People focus so much on Scrum, which is merely a set of rules for the planning game, that they tend to ignore the enabling engineering practices that ultimately fuel effective development teams.

“The Agile Manifesto and current thought leadership are notably silent about the role of the manager and leadership, so important to any transformational effort. This again depowers any transformative oomph that such an initiative might have. I have seen leaders at all levels underestimate the cultural component of such an effort, and they tend to think that agile is a training thing. “Get the people trained on agile, and we will be agile.

“Top-down governance, a necessary evil in big and publicly-traded companies, is usually highly disruptive to agile teams, unless all of the supporting and operational functions are also adopting an agile mindset. The same can be said of the support functions, which would include the lawyers, the bean counters, and yes, the people people.”

Other than that, it’s just great.

The person who asked the question had more questions for me after the session. “What are you saying? Are you a champion of agile or a critic?”


I believe in agile. I think the elements of the Manifesto, if followed as a value system, can lead to work output that is more focused on outcomes. I love that so many smart people, like the Original Signatories and others with whom I work, are so invested in making agile work, because they think it’s the right thing to do. I also see potential for agile ways of thinking to transform work and the world. There are a myriad of people who are making rain with agile. I believe agile can accelerate our contribution as human performance technologists.

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