Agile is Dead! Agile is Alive! The future is Agile! Agile sucks!
Settle down people. Agile does not exist. Period. Agility does. Agile is not a noun. It’s an adjective. That’s what the Agile Manifesto signatories meant. There, can we all go home now?
OK. Let me deep dive a little bit.
With the proliferation of social media and the immediate share of thoughts and random blurbs it has become increasingly easy to come across ill-researched, ill-documented and ill-thought-out articles, posts, whatever you want to call it information in a ready available media as it is the world wide web. What was once a source of knowledge has now become a melting pot of truth, lies and plain bullsh*t. And this is true for every subject, Agility included. So even if we accept that by a “normal” deviation in language Agile has become a noun — although it shouldn’t — there are other aspects that are not so easy to accept.
In a recent article, Steve Denning has shared his thoughts on the Future of Agile. In the same article he refers to another article that professes the End of Agile. This is just one of the many examples we can come across the web. So much so that I am inclined in stating that Agile has become a Schrödinger’s paradox and currently we can not tell if it’s alive or dead. It’s either one or the other. Could it be both? Should it be both?
The thing is that, I personally believe that Agile in its original form has become somewhat obsolete. I agree on and defend the values and principles of the Manifesto but like everything in life, Agile has evolved and continues to do so. What we see today is a multitude of ways to embrace and adopt some sort of Agile Practices and the discussion has become not so much if we are Agile or not but wether we ARE or DO Agile. Further more, as Steve Denning has stated himself Agile has spread into different realms. Having said that shouldn’t Agile evolve as well?
Why, you wonder? I’ll explain…
The first issue I have with the Future of Agile is that we have a lot of BAD AGILE KNOWLEDGE going around. From the way Agile is described to its origins to what it encompasses. Bad Scrum, bad Kanban, bad practices, bad concepts. And that’s not even considering people that “sell” Agile without even knowing what VUCA is. Or OODA. Or Sense Making, Cynefin, OKRs, Human Factors, and so on… Agile has become a commodity. Something you sell for profit. And a luxury commodity for that matter. And the biggest problem? Most that sell it don’t have a clue of what they are selling. OK, so I took a class in Scrum. I might even have a CSM or PSM I. Or both. Suddenly I am a big deal and teach Scrum. Nope! Not nearly enough. Granted, I do train in Scrum as well. I give workshops on the subject. The basics. And the first thing I state in each and every class is “I do not have all the answers.”. The second? “Everything you read and study is only the tip of the iceberg. Scrum in real life is NOT what is written in the Scrum Guide. That’s the basics. Once you go out into the wild there are so many different considerations, factors and circumstances you have to take into account that often you end up with something that only barely resembles what you came across in the Scrum Guide. But if you want to transform your company and/or teams, you’ve got to start somewhere…”.
And yes, we do have the opposite. Just look at the work that Nigel Thurlow, Brian Rivera, Dave Snowden and others are doing with Scrum, Lean, Team Science, Complex Systems, and several other not well known from the general public but enormously important subjects. If you really want to learn about Agile don’t just stick with Scrum or Kanban. There is literally hundreds of different things to learn. And think about (that’s the important part).
Secondly, there are currently so many different “Agiles”. We have Agile, The Heart of Agile, Agnostic Agile, Modern Agile, and more. If you are a newcomer you ‘ll find yourself disperse and lost. Where to chose from? Which one is best? Which one is best for me, at least? There should be somewhere, somehow, where we could gather all the “good” information, data and knowledge on Agile. Somewhere where we could separate the chaff from the wheat. And while we are at it, list all the proper organisations that train and certificate in every single recognised Agile framework, method, practice and tool.
My third issue is closely related with the last. Agile is being thrown around as a miracle medicine. And it is getting a bad reputation for it. We often read or listen that we should evangelise. Well, I read somewhere that evangelisation brings resistance. Come to think of it, I fully agree. We shouldn’t evangelise. We should prove it by doing it. Show it working. Build upon our failures and turn them into successes. And show once and for all that Agile, as good at it may be, it’s NOT for everyone. It’s NOT a silver bullet. And it will NOT solve all your problems. As Ken Schwaber once said “Scrum is like your mother-in-law, it points out ALL your faults”.
In conclusion, there are many, MANY things wrong with Agile. And they are all related with one thing only. It has outgrown itself. From an adjective carved by 17 software professional that already where using and developing several frameworks, methods and practices to a monster business. Many thousand of “Agile” certificate holders, many of which might recite by heart the Scrum Guide but know nothing about psychological safety, and so many more completing “certifications” each day in a multi-million dollar industry, backed up by the buzzword and the fact that all big corporations feel the need to shout ou they “are” Agile when in fact they really only “do” some sort of half-baked excuse of Faux Scrum.
How to solve this? I am not the owner of truth, but it is my belief that Agile needs a second coming. A new revolution. Perhaps a new manifesto. Or a new entity to deal with all these issues in an “official” capacity. A Global Board of Agility if you will. Something to unite us all. Is it possible? Currently I’m afraid not. There are too many political, economic and corporate issues at stake. But one day I hope I will be able to write an article stating that Agile is very much ALIVE and WELL instead of wondering if it’s possibly dead (or alive) while I decide if I should take a peek inside the box…