Response to “Three Things I Don’t Like in Agile Community”

Andy wrote some interesting observations in his “Three Things…” post:

1. Dogmatism
Agile is about adaptive, creative approach to complex work yet amazingly average agilists are the most dogmatic people I know.

Part of dogmatism is also treating agile […] as the all-encompassing solution to problems not only in software development, not only in IT, but everywhere. [This] is a far cry from healthy pragmatism that I think is at the core of all good management.

I see this is a common thread among those who have issues with Agile. Naturally, if someone is presenting a methodology at a conference, I can see where it might sound dogmatic. However, if an Agile Consultant is engaged with a team and preaches “Do it My Way or Else” in spite of vehement team opposition, well, that strikes me as non-agile.

For me, agile has always been more about the proper state of mind than dogma. We need to prefer to do those things that are best for the business/customer goals over doing things that are not as helpful at getting the project closer to “done.” Sure, there are practices associated with agile methods, but simply doing those practices don’t make someone agile per se.

No, what makes someone agile is a combination of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and all within the cultural and business context in which things are being done.

For example, you just can’t walk into an elderly long-term care facility and do yoga like you would with 20-30 year-olds. (Well, you could, but that would be stupid.) Similarly, you can’t simply ram your favorite XP tools and practices and Magic Scrumbans into a steeped-in-old-ways, very stodgy organization full of legacy software written in a 30 year-old, no-longer-supported language. Well, you could, but that would be stupid.

So, Andy, if you spot one of us “Agilistas” spouting off a dogma, smack us upside the head and say “Work with me, son!”

2. Sectarianism

Kanban, Scrum, XP – everyone follows their own method, and basically says others are useless or at least not as good. […] Again, this is in the face of core principles of agile.

Hmmmm. The only good method I ever practiced was the one I was doing at the time it was working right. While I can understand someone who is training in a strict methodology being sectarian, that is not the same as consulting. I attempt to be a generalizing specialist (as Scott Ambler likes to refer to it…) and use a blend of tools, practices, modalities, and therapies.

Andy, if you find yourself being preached to by a consultant (not a trainer) that is one-dimensional, take it for what it is worth. A single, focused, dimension — nothing more.

3. Domination by consultants Most if not all agilists that write, teach and coach do only this, and have not run a software project (or a business) hands on for quite a while.

Well, the lack of real-world experience should be obvious by perusing their background. While trainers can be good at getting across certain practices and methodologies, and while coaching dozens of teams provides valuable exposure, it does not substitute for actual production experience. I learned a great deal traipsing around dozens of companies to help train and consult to kick-start projects — lots of cross-pollination potential as well! Similarly, consultants with great experience at building real world systems and helping teams do that, may not be the best down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty trainer for a given technique.

It’s a trade-off. First off, don’t confuse training on a skill, with consulting to help achieve a business goal. I think you have to understand what the purpose of the consulting engagement is, and who was brought in for that task. If you just want to learn the mechanics and lingo of Scrum, it takes only two days — it’s that simple. But tell any Project Manager with real world software project experience, and they’ll tell you that you don’t know much after just a few days of training.

So, if you ran into an agilista trainer that has not been on a real world project to deliver production code in a long while — or ever, then you should not expect that sort of knowledge. It doesn’t mean they cannot provide you with valuable training.

However, I will also say that not much is new under the sun in software development in the past 30 years. I mean, seriously. The same core issues exist in trying to roll out a piece of software to production as did 30 years ago. Admittedly, I don’t recall having quite as much fun as I do now with delivering production code with Ruby, Rails, Cucumber, RSpec, github, Mongo, gems… The ecosystem makes it so much easier to “do the right thing” with BDD/TDD for example.

Andy, I can appreciate your observations about the “Agile Community” — like so many others I have read on the web. To that end, I suppose we need to re-double our efforts at re-stating that Agile is a State of Mind, not a set of dogmatic practices.

And, in the end, Andy, caveat emptor. The Agile mantra should be one of empowerment and individual freedom to please the customer in the best way possible. You are ultimately responsible for doing the right thing. Agile ideas, processes, tools, trainers and consultants are just that — and nothing more. We are not the answer, we just try to help. In the end, the team is the answer.

3 thoughts on “Response to “Three Things I Don’t Like in Agile Community”

  1. Pawel Brodzinski

    While your arguments are valid I’m more on Andy’s side here. In short, when agile became mainstream we started seeing a lot of folks, who you call non-agile, yet they state they work under agile banner.

    If we forgot about them we’d probably see the situation we’d like. But then, we can’t forget about all those people as they’re growing in numbers.

    Also I often have a problem with agile thought leaders. I don’t put their knowledge into question yet they often fall into the trap of dogma. See Ken Schwaber and David Anderson dispute over Scrum versus Kanban as a reference.

    By the way all the problems Andy points are nothing new. They hit every new way technology which becomes mainstream. It is true for programming languages (doesn’t Java entering the market and gaining a significant share ring a bell?) and it is true for methods we use to deal with building software as well. It seems we have to get used to the situation we have until the next big thing comes.

    1. jon Post author

      I have an idea! Agilista Self-Certification.
      RateMyAgile.com
      Anybody preaching agile can register on a TBD website so that those they preach to can provide +/- voting and written feedback. Kind of like what I suspect RateMyTeachers.com does — though I have never looked at that website. Or similar to what TripAdvisor.com or other travel sites do to allow feedback.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Response to “Three Things I Don’t Like in Agile Community” « Technical Debt -- Topsy.com

Leave a Reply