Three things I don’t like in the agile community

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1. Dogmatism
Agile is about adaptive, creative approach to complex work yet amazingly average agilists are the most dogmatic people I know. If you read their blogs and follow their tweets you will soon see dogmas being proclaimed and anathemas being cast on heretics who don’t agree.

The irony is that those dogmas can be pretty obvious observations, just repackaged to look like great discoveries. A good example I’ve seen on Twitter recently: “If you haven’t met you are not a team”. Well, that’s pretty obvious that it is much harder for team cohesion to occur when people don’t meet – it has been known for years that colocated teams are more productive than dispersed teams. However, to say that such a team can’t be a team and can’t do anything meaningful is turning an insight into a dogma.

Part of dogmatism is also treating agile – a simple set of principles plus a couple of practices and methods that evolved from them – as the all-encompassing solution to problems not only in software development, not only in IT, but everywhere. While this kind of zealotry helps some to keep the momentum for me it is a fry cry from healthy pragmatism that I think is at the core of all good management. In the long run it doesn’t help spread agile (at least outside of the US where aggressive selling of everything, including ideas, based on exaggeration is the culturally accepted norm).

2. Sectarianism

Kanban, Scrum, XP – everyone follows their own method, and basically says others are useless or at least not as good. It is like if we had separate sects, each following its guru or gurus – and shunning others. Again, this is in the face of core principles of agile.

While there is lots of value in well-defined methods like Scrum and healthy criticism and debate are most welcome a bit of respect for other approaches would definitely help. Especially so when someone says something works for them. It is common sense (if it works don’t fix it) – but isn’t “the art of the possible” one of core agile principles?

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. This is all natural, especially given how much money was there in it for those who were in the movement early enough. But it has some bad side effects – dogmatism and sectarianism are amongst them.

Apart from that I firmly believe that if you just preach but don’t do you gradually loose your edge and become one of the “experts” – a true consultant, namely someone who can only talk the (pricey) talk but (no longer) walk the walk. It is interesting how pragmatic practitioners usually are and how creative they get when solving problems they encounter in their teams/projects – not necessarily following everything “gurus” say to the letter.

That’s why conferences and other places (sites, publications) where practitioners talk about their experiences, problems and solutions they devised to overcome them are crucially important for agile’s future. However, most are dominated by consultants.

Dogmatism, sectarianism and consultant domination are hurting agile, frequently reducing it to a sales message. How does it make the agile community look like? Does it help spread those methods, change the way in which projects are run etc? Is it really convincing for decision makers? Is it even a movement one wants to be a part of? Sad but important questions “thought leaders” of agile should ask themselves.

  1. Lisa Crispin

    Well said. I started out as an XP dogmatist but thanks to the good teams I’ve worked on, I’ve learned why the self-organizing team works so well (when allowed to!)
    Interesting what you say about consultant domination. I considered switching to consulting, but I feel if I’m not part of a team, I don’t have any real, valuable experience to share. Still, I know many consultants who are able to keep in touch with real work and provide a lot of good ideas and inspiration. Maybe we shouldn’t tar them all with the same brush…

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  2. Agile Scout

    Interesting take on things! We like where this is headed:
    1. Dogmatism is no bueno. Defeats the spirit of Agile
    2. Different methods can bleed into each other for different situations. There is no one-size-fits all
    3. Agilists should be practitioners first. No arm-chair theorists. Get in the game!

    Good stuff here.

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  3. Angela Harms

    Wow. You sound pissed. But I can’t actually tell what you’re pissed about.
    About dogmatism: You know someone who’s ideas about agile seem too simple to be helpful? Or they aren’t willing to talk about them? To see nuances? Let’s talk about them! I’m curious.

    About sectarianism: You see a lot of value in many of the different approaches–is that right? Are you wanting to be able to explore agile from several directions with folks, rather than finding folks only about to really talk about one way of doing agile?

    Domination by consultants: So, I only know consultants who go into businesses and get their hands dirty, so to speak. These folks play with code, solve problems, go to meetings, get frustrated… all that stuff, and they keep teaching love in the face of that. I’m not really sure who you’re mad at here, but I can’t imagine it’s the folks I know.

    Would you be interested in elaborating on what, specifically, is bugging you about consultants?

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  4. Ilker Cetinkaya

    I agree with you on all three points. I don’t like them either. However, for me a question still remains: Are these “discouragements” unique to the agile community? More precisely: Aren’t all of those applicable to the whole software industry?
    I mean dogmatism is evil, everywhere. Sectarianism is as old as bracket style or vi vs emacs religions. Consultants can be found where money is, this is a natural law.

    Face it. Agile is mainstream. Agile is adopted by the industry. Agile is large and bold – in theory, in practice, in media.

    This means we as agilists need to deal with it. We need to face the disadvantages and picture them into a faithful, honest frame. It does not mean that we need to live with it and accept it as is. I personally keep fighting for change, tolerance and openmindedness. However, it does mean that we shouldn’t consider the fact that due to broad usage and adoption of agile methods, those agile methods are being affected by broader industry illnesses such as dogmatism and sectarianism.

    Nonetheless, a great and enthusiastic post. Thank you.

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  5. Amit

    I have been practicing Scrum for almost 4 years now. The methodology seems very good… but I should admit, after a while it is “What works for you an your team”. Following it to the heart was an overkill for the team… We evolved and started using a mix of Scrum and Kanban…
    Good read !!

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  6. jeff

    agree. I’m not in the valley, but I hear ya. Nothing beats hands on proof. Plus you should think for yourself.

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  7. TooMuchExperience

    4. The fact that its just Prototyping renamed, finds a way to hide bad code away, and doesn’t work anyway?

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  8. Pawel Brodzinski

    My short observation is that these issues are not exclusive for agile. Actually they hit every new idea which becomes mainstream.
    When the idea have few early followers they usually use it in a very pragmatist manner. And then more and more people start following so suddenly there are loads of money there. So we we end up with tons of consultants, trainers, conferences, books and such with increasing number of people selling silver bullets, as silver bullets always sell well. Dogma and sectarianism quickly follows.

    It doesn’t really matter if we’re talking about programming languages, project management approaches or anything else. The scheme is the same.

    The thing which surprise me more is how dogmatic agile though leaders can sometimes be. That’s something I wouldn’t expect, especially after all those years and all their experience.

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    • Andy

      Those issues are not exclusive to agile, I agree, however other ideas (like new programing languages etc.) don’t have the message of pragmatism and non-dogmatic approach at their core. Agile does, so when agilists act like this it indicates they failed to internalize the very principles they preach.

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  9. wladimir

    Isn’t the whole IT (or, more general, corporate) sector “Dominated by consultants” these days? That’s no different for agile.

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  10. toni

    Nice one,I disagree on Sectarianism, I never seen a Scrum project without XP or an XP project without a bit of Scrum.
    But maybe that’s just luck.

    More luckily I did trash away all the dogmatism and the waste involved in using all the agile recommended tools and now I work in an environment were we avoid using the word agile and where we just use the bare minium process to keep progress going. We are going faster, indeed, very fast.

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  11. Liz Keogh

    Sometimes new teams just need some practices to get started. I like to think this is where the simple set of principles plus a couple of practices come from – from getting teams started with something that makes sense.
    If things like “If you haven’t met you’re not a team” were obvious, more people would do them. For you, it’s a platitude. For some people it’s a revelation. You don’t work with those teams. Don’t discount those of us who do.

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  12. Michael Jabbour

    Great post Andy! Personally, I think ego is the source of much of this.
    One would think that there is a lot of ego in traditional methods (and the abusive overuse of those methods), but for whatever reason many of the Agile culture heroes seem to suck up all the oxygen in the field and leave no space for new and exciting practices and principles to emerge.

    Little less ego, little more humility would probably go a long way in our Agile community.

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  13. Bachan Anand

    Andy,You brought up some interesting points and applies when people stop thinking.

    What is the solution ?considering Agile has more to offer teams that the things you brought up that stands in the way.

    I would be very interested in seeing more details of why Agile does not apply outside of IT, have you tried it and failed on you just think it does not apply at all?

    Reply
  14. Mikalai Alimenkou

    Great post. I almost agree with you in all things. There is really a lot of dogmatics in Agile world. They tends to formulate different well known ideas about team, quality and development processes under Agile sauce and blame all other processes even if they work well for organization. I name such people Scrumoholics because most of them belongs to Scrum because of its simplicity in comparison to FDD or XP. I don’t completely agree with your thoughts about sectarianism because most of Scrum practitioners understand importance of XP engineering practices and use them in their teams. Similar situation with Kanban – it widely used together with Scrum to manage support and bug fixing activities. The most lovely theme is Agile coaching. From my point of view nobody can teach others without continuous practical experience. In our country we blame universities for old system and staff who mostly teaches without current practical experience. As a result students are not ready to work in real environment and know only old tools and techniques. There are many great techniques and principles in Agile world, but most of them are not simple to implement and depend on concrete context. True Agile coach should go through this pain himself to share really useful experience instead of just theory.

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  15. Derek Neighbors

    Could you imagine a world where SCRUM Trainers were required to be active on a real team with a real project for at least six months out of every year in order to keep their certification?

    Reply

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