Time to Inspect About “The Agile Model”
Agile has been around for a very long time now. In this time, we have experienced and continue to experience all kinds of agile methods and frameworks. Each of these arguably addresses a problem or set of problems, so each has its place and context.
Unfortunately, what has happened over the last decade is that agile ways of working have been sold as organisational canned diets. We see a lot of this in the form of two-day certification / agile leadership courses, and packaged up frameworks based on older and often unreferenced sources. People who attend these courses and get their certification, think they are now qualified to tell others what agile is and isn’t.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also have framework wars. Like children in a toyshop, the ‘mine is better than yours’ malady shows no signs of slowing down. Even people who are well recognised in the industry have taken ‘sides’ and simply make it part of their business to framework bash. Gone it seems, are the days when agile was a collaborative mind-set and set of principles meant to enhance organisations through relentless improvement and inspection and adaption, regardless of method or framework. What we have now are different flavours of agile that are packaged up, branded, its adherents indoctrinated into haranguing with other practitioners and frameworks, all the while our customers (and potential customers I must add) are witnessing these ridiculous theatrics.
Why Agnostic Agile?
I dislike religious, dogmatic and even political references about agile that I often come across, which is why the term agnostic rings very true to me, because agnosticism is not religious, and implies dogma-free agile. The point of the Agnostic Agile Oath is to recognise that agility is not a brand of anything. It is pure, serves the customer’s business, and is dogma free. As the first paragraph of the Agnostic Agile Oath says, “This means one size does not fit all, one framework is not the answer, and the ‘what and the how’ of what needs to be done, should be suited to customer context and to a wider strategic vision.”
It is in some part a response to these ‘dogma-certified’ experts, that Agnostic Agile came into existence. This, and when I start seeing and experiencing (and helping to fix), the damage that this has caused within organisations. I have been with clients who have been heavily tarnished by so-called ‘agile coaches’, who have pushed a framework onto the organisation when it wasn’t compatible.
When I give talks or training sessions, I usually have people come to me afterwards and say something like “the agile coach said we must do two week sprints or we are not being agile“, or “the agile coach said that we should not speak to project managers directly or let them into our meetings”, or “my teams should know what they are doing because they have all done the 2-day certification course“. One previous team I worked with even complained because they were encouraged to wear a silly outfit if they arrived late, three times after a stand-up had started. Instead of asking the person why she keeps coming late (maybe there is a good reason), she was effectively being punished. That is not agile, nor is it respecting people or culture.
The damage that is done not only hinders organisations but greatly inhibits and demotivates individuals as well. It is hard for senior management or executives to buy into agile when they hear mantras like ‘managers are not needed and should stay away from all things agile’, a mantra I have unfortunately heard many times. As agile practitioners, this makes our lives a lot harder, it takes a lot of work to undo bad coaching.
Each of my peers that helped me produce the Agnostic Agile Oath, Adrian Lander, Arie van Bennekum and Melanie Franklin, have a vast amount of similar experiences and stories, as well. Additionally, a multitude of people who have already signed the oath, have shared also some of their similar experiences.
The Certification Impediment
Unfortunately, some practitioners are bound by the shackles of their certifications and their heavy yearly subscriptions, this means they are often not allowed to freely practice or teach other frameworks even though the customer might be a lot more amenable to them, and they are encouraged to make one framework choice and roll that choice out as often as possible. What do you think this does to that person’s mind-set and attitude to other frameworks? It engenders framework wars, encourages cantankerous behaviour and creates religious dogma in a professional community that by its very nature is supposed to be built on fast learning cycles. This phenomenon is abundant and has permeated throughout the Internet and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.
The image of Mount Stupid is a great way to visually express this point – people oft talk about what they have no idea about, except what they read second or third hand from other dogmatists.
This kind of certification lock-in, vendor-lock in, and framework fundamentalism is non-agile, unhelpful, and unethical towards both ourselves and the customers we serve – it’s the antithesis of what the Agnostic Agile Oath stands for.
Time to Adapt
It is encouraging that as organisations mature and get better at what they do, the realisation that sticking to a single canned agile diet will hinder their agility. You will need a good agile coach to help them identify and work through this realisation. Examples of this are acknowledging and addressing the realities of scaling, while maintaining levels of agility sufficient for both organisational need and customer demand. The focus then becomes less on how ‘pure’ your agile is, and more on if your level of agility is enough to get you to where you need to be. There is no such thing as perfect agile, perfect is an oft inflated word that in our context simply means, ‘fit for purpose’.
This is really the essence of the Agnostic Agile Oath – to get your customers where they need to be, enabling their independence, whilst respecting the methods and the people used to get them there.
I’d argue that we live in a post-agile world. If that’s true, then learning one framework is simply not enough, you must work to gain experience in multiple methods and frameworks, including the PDCA based frameworks and the scaling frameworks.
I like Alistair Cockburn’s introduction of Shu-Ha-Ri into the agile world. Roughly translating as learn, detach, and transcend, the fundamental concept is that you must tailor the style of teaching to where the learner is in their understanding. Early stages are largely imitation stages (Shu), then after some time and experience of doing the thing, you focus more on principles as guidance (Ha) and finally you start to ignore the rules all together, creating innovation and value through adapting and transcending (Ri). As agile coaches / practitioners, if we can get to Ri in at least two frameworks, we will be a lot better equipped to help our customers (and each other) get to where they (we) need to be.
Cockburn introduced the Oath of Non-Allegiance in 2010, a single sentence that has since been translated into many other languages. The difference between this and the Agnostic Agile Oath, is fourfold:
1) Relevance, because today we have more frameworks, some of which drive un-agile behaviours in the industry
2) Depth, because the Agnostic Agile Oath has 12 statements addressing different issues
3) Breadth, because the Agnostic Agile Oath is customer focused as well as focused on the agile practitioner and community.
4) The industrialisation of agile. Since 2010 or thereabouts, the ‘agile industry’ has exponentially grown and has become a money and certification driven business of significant volume. The Agnostic Agile Oath aims to create awareness around this that will hopefully inspire for more ethical choices by practitioners and even more savviness on customer side.
Finally, we must remember that attaining agility does not guarantee a better outcome for your customer. We like to give customers independence, the ability to be agile on their own. We do not want customers forever reliant on frameworks and certification schemes, or agile consultants or coaches, because doing so creates dependencies, and what do we do in agile? We like to identify and eliminate dependencies wherever possible. Interesting dichotomy, isn’t it.
If you visit http://agnosticagile.org, and it resonates with you, please sign it to show your support.