We Object To The Rampant Distortion Of Agile And Scrum.

We are calling B.S. on what is usually sold as Agile and Scrum. We love the four values and twelve principles of the Agile Manifesto, the original reason our movement was called Agile. Some of us were also inspired by a realistic and useful vision of Scrum. But Agile and Scrum are usually twisted to mean something incompatible with this prior intent, especially in organizations that are bigger than one team.

Traditional organizations will not gain agility with the change theater that is often sold as “Agile.” Change theater is actively counterproductive, inoculating organizations against the structural and policy changes they would need.

Agile organizations learn, reprioritize, and adapt to changing customer needs, rather than focusing on quantity of output.

Even when many teams are involved, adaptability can be fine-grained, on a timescale of a week to a month rather than limited to coarse multi-month program increments and quarterly goals.

In knowledge work, “dependencies” are not caused by immutable laws of physics. The perceived need to plan around them through multiple Sprints is a symptom of obsolete organizational structure, policy, and skills. This should be directly addressed rather than institutionalized with the waterfall dependency management that masquerades as Agile scaling.

Team self management implies a simplified, disintermediated organizational structure. Role-free teams coordinate directly with other teams and learn directly from customer interaction. Please stop rebadging traditional specifiers and coordinators with Agile-sounding names.

Saying yes to agility means saying no to things that are mischaracterized as Agile. Here are some things we can do instead:

  • eliminate processes not owned by teams
  • eliminate unnecessary intermediate layers and handoffs (e.g. people mislabeled “Product Owners” who actually own only one team instead of the whole Product)
  • eliminate unnecessary process-imposed role segregation (e.g. various kinds of crypto-project-managers)
  • eliminate software tools that affect the way teams manage their Product Backlogs and Sprint Backlogs
  • eliminate the obsession with quantitative measures
  • learn to detect other traditional practices relabeled and disguised as “Agile”

In 2001, when helping craft the Agile Manifesto, Alistair Cockburn made an observation that still resonates:

I am interested in fending off the fat methodology army, the vast quantity of RUP, Anderson, SEI, etc. salespeople putting ideas into CIOs’ minds that they should have lots of paperwork to be “safe.” Countering the “I want a turnkey methodology, one that works straight out of the box” mentality. Those are the two battles I could use help in.

We support approaches such as LeSS that are based on fundamental Agile principles because they can better serve customers and employees. We reject ‘scaling’ approaches that increase organizational complexity and disempower teams.

Signatories

  • Michael James (MJ), Seattle, WA, 3 Aug 2019
  • Manoj Vadakkan, Denver, CO, 3 Aug 2019
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