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16 May 2015

Agile; an unfinished epiphany

May 16th 2015

Earlier this week, I was giving a talk about Agility and how the ideas behind it might scale to an organisational level, when I was asked the following question;

Agile Business Analysts and Product Owners Meet-up Group
Visual notes by Lynn Cazaly
Feb 2015
“I had understood that the idea of Agile was in fact under review and that people are questioning some of the ideas behind it, particularly around the usefulness of some of the practices … what do you think about that?”

I was initially surprised by the question, but gathered myself together sufficient to say; "well yes, it’s Agile it’s supposed to be reflexive; it’s supposed to evolve; it’s not a problem."

But thinking about this further, I realise that there is a problem, but it’s not a problem with Agile, it’s a problem with us and with over complication.

The following quote from an excellent post by Andy Hunt pretty much nails it.

“So instead of looking up to the agile principles and the abstract ideas of the agile manifesto, folks get as far as the perceived iron rules of a set of practices, and no further.”

In his post Andy Hunt goes on to propose that the waters are now so muddy that we need a new name and new set of principles in order to distance ourselves from the mess and resolve this problem. Somehow though, I don't think a new name or a new version will fix things, I worry that it would just add to the complexity.

There are a number things floating around the internet at the moment that reflect this such as thistalk from Erik Meijer. When this talk was published it caused a whole lot of consternation exemplified by these two very different responses to Meijer, one, which addressed his arguments piece by piecee and another with suggested he was actually pulling off a hoax. None of which really helps to clarify the situation much.

Much of the criticism of current interpretations of Agility is related to the implementation/use (misuse) of so-called Agile methods and tools.  This is unsurprising, since whilst these can give you a starting point through which to approach a task or a problem; they can, and sometimes are, used in such a way that they become instruments of torture.

But these are not the problem either, the problem is us! Our understanding of Agility is at the Shu and (sometimes) Ha level; even after 15 years we have not yet become confident enough to let go of the need to put up a methodological scaffold to which we can attach a safety harness. This is exemplified by the current popularity of Agile frameworks, designed to help organisations with something that looks like it needs simplification.
But Agile thinking is already very simple, the ideas in the Manifesto are not meant to be constraining, they are meant to free us up to work using whatever tools and techniques work, in whatever way they work best, for a given set of circumstances. We will only have reached the Ri level understanding once we can do this. Then, we will have really understood that Agility is not about working with technology, business or software; Agility is about working with people.