“That’s Not Agile”
By Chris Moody
If you work in an organization that utilizes one of the many agile methodologies, you have probably heard the statement “that’s not agile”. It could be about a proposed process change, or a critique of an existing way of doing things. It baffles me to no end when people get lost in the weeds about if something they want to try as a team is agile. This is unfortunately very prevalent in Agile Coaches and Scrum Masters who have a lot of experience. Since agile is an emerging idea that is really starting to catch some momentum, some who have been advocates for a longer period of time can be standoff-ish about how to do things. This should be a huge red flag, because there are so many variations of agile and not every organization is the same. You can know all the right things, but completely fail at helping a team adopt agile. That is why it is very important to be flexible, and not have a “better than” mindset. The principles of agile/scrum are meant to be a guide, not a law that must be perfectly adhered to. I’m not suggesting you should throw all caution to the wind and try any and everything, because “everything’s agile!” No. What I am primarily addressing is the way in which this topic is approached.
So, who’s right? Maybe saying “that’s not agile” can be valid. Or maybe we’ve lost sight about what agile is all about. Let’s just take a quick peek at the Agile Manifesto for a refresher on what it’s all about:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
To be brash: If someone tells you “that’s not agile” and it’s something that could enable one of the 4 agile main points of the manifesto, I would seriously question how well they truly understand agile. And agile by nature is something that I believe will continue to evolve as people uncover better ways of doing things. (sound familiar?)
If your organization is looking for an Agile Coach or Scrum Master or you are just trying to improve your skills in that realm, here are some suggestions for what not to do, and what to do.
- Don’t try to impress anyone with your agile credentials. Do try to identify things that have been successful on similar teams/organizations.
Don’t be preachy when trying to present new ideas. Do suggest ideas with a humble and flexible attitude.
Don’t rely solely on past experiences of what worked for other teams. Do spend a lot of time listening to people’s needs an challenges.
Don’t react when people are critical of agile. Do find a way to tie what people want back to agile principles and show them how they could enable those things.
Don’t press your own agenda. Do thoroughly understand how you can support management’s vision.
Don’t treat the agile principles as a law. Do use them as a guide for making continual improvement.
Don’t be too critical of a team’s existing processes. You never know how much hard work they have put into building what’s there. Do make a point to try to build on existing foundations, and position it as an improvement rather than tearing down.
Don’t be too quick to judge what will work best for a team. Do ask a lot of sincere questions and follow the breadcrumbs of how things became the way they are.
Hopefully the next time you want to say “That’s not agile” you can remember the big picture and help your teams find the very best solution. What things are important to you as an agile proponent in these regards? Do you have any good stories to share?
Chris Moody is a a project manager/consultant working for a consulting firm in the Seattle area. In recent years he has been working with agile teams more abundantly. You can read more from Chris on his blog.