fork the theatre
Last week I got asked to give a little talk at an internal client event about making agile work in less than agile institutions and less than perfect circumstances.
This actually ended up in something of a therapy session for me on everything that frustrates me about the Agile™ I see increasingly and a mea culpa for my past as an Agile™ advocate with no empathy for other approaches and this is a continuation of that rant.
I know part of it is that I’ve been around the block a few times and I have been tapped by the cynicism stick on an occasion or two but increasingly I find I am sympathetic to those organisations and individuals who still distrust agile.
There has always been a slightly uncomfortable element of cultism around agile but increasingly it seems like there is more and more theatre around it all. Now I love a Post-It and a Sharpie as much as the next person but there seems to be more and more…performance…associated with Agile™.
- The ever more complex retrospectives
- the blooming Lego (Serious Play? Seriously?)
- Scrum as a Service — whereby the team perfectly performs all the Scrum ‘ceremonies’ but delivers zero value.
- Certifications and the industry that has grown up around them is part of the cause of this — good luck to people who pay their money and take the courses but if ever there was a ‘learn by doing’ activity it is running an agile team.
- Oh and the Burn Down Chart/Velocity illusion — the only teams that do not at least sub-consciously game these things are the ones who don’t need them anyway because they are just that good.
- I mean they are based on estimates — which is fine as long as you except they are all wrong all the time and all the playing cards and gamification in the world won’t change that.
Part of the problem is the scope creep of agile beyond software and product worlds I think — the core elements of it start to lose their anchors when you get away from those concrete outcomes based things. The idea of Scaled Agile and Agile Organisations always makes my skin itch a bit — I understand the ambition but the word starts to lose all meaning.
For the record though I remain 100% dedicated to agile — just my version of it. Here is what I care about from agile —
- Do retrospectives. Often. Act on them. They don’t need to be big occasions. Ask the questions, be honest, be empathetic and make the changes.
- Seek feedback and iterate. User research, prototypes, working in the open, conversations in the kitchen. Whatever. Show the thing. Get feedback. Iterate. As quickly and as often as you can.
- Empower your teams. Teams should be able to make their own decisions — up to a point — and after that point should know exactly who they need to escalate to and that escalation should not slow them down so it needs to be clear what they need to provide for any decision they cannot make to be made.
- Look after your teams. Agile can be hard — the pace, the amount of change, the cadence can be punishing, the expectation levels can be too high and often you are working in institutions who are wary at best and distrustful at worst. Burn out rates are high and psychological safety is a must.
- The right amount of governance at the right time in the right way. Agile is not the wild west. It totally needs a layer of governance. Just it needs to be horses for courses — not some generic approach used elsewhere. Governance brings assurance, assurance brings trust and trust opens doors for more modern ways of working.
- Work in the open (shocking I know!). Openness builds trust. It removes barriers. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If you take away the mystery of these ways of working it takes away the fear. Change the language. Demonstrate the discipline needed (the idea that agile is the easy option remain prevalent and it couldn’t be further from the truth!)
- FORKING communicate. With each other. With stakeholders. With ‘the business’. With ‘users’. With other teams. With other organisations doing similar work. Agile is about communicating.
Anyway this is my hype curve for my 11 year relationship with agile working to date — and long may it continue 🙂