The Agile Movement …is NOT very Agile!!


Let’s say it out load without restrains, political correctness, or sugar coating shall we?

“The Agile movement …is NOT very Agile!!”

This came up within another “little conversation” that I had with Jim McCarthy at the OSA (Open Space Agility) FB group, the other day. Yes, the the author of the Core Protocols, and a guy that has the uncanny ability to make me more blunt, as if I needed any help.

But now this statement is really getting to me, burning me, really. How did this happen? Wouldn’t you expect that WE, the people that tell the entire world that Agile is the “way to go”, the “way of the future”, the “better way”, be Agile in what we do?

Let’s break it down a bit, before it appears to be just another “complaining” rant:

1. Agile Manifesto

Let’s start here, from the “original source” that defines what Agile is.

As much as I am proud of the merits and accomplishments of the Agile Manifesto, it’s really not a very good explanation of what Agile really is. Mind you, not that there is anything wrong with it, it is just not very well explained. I think Alistair Cockburn has done a good job with his Heart of Agile with a better explanation, but I find myself at odds saying that the official source that defines Agile, needs improvement.

Shouldn’t we be eating our own “dog food” …and iterate and IMPROVE???

Jim McCarthy calls this “abandonment” irresponsible …because the entire world depends on this; and I’m starting to side with him. It would appear to some, that we, the Agilistas, are “too proud” to take criticism, or afraid or “the mirror” … and improve. Are we suffering from the very same syndrome than those that we so-blatantly criticize for “not changing” fast enough?

I am currently working my own version of a better explanation of Agile. I will publish an article on this soon, and I will seek community feedback, but again, the “official source” is static!!! That is not a good sign.

2. Agile Transformations

This needs very little explanation, because everybody knows that:

Agile Transformations …done by arguably “Agile practitioners” and “Agile Coaches”, supported by arguably “Agile leaders”, …are not Agile at ALL for the most part!

In fact, most Agile Transformations are managed through “traditional management” techniques. Some people even use Gantt charts! Most “transformation plans” look waterfallish: assess, envision, plan, train, coach, deploy, DONE! To make this worse, most of “transformation plans” are done by external entities from those being transformed, which then FORCE their disrespectful transformation plan unto others, with little or NO concern for their well-being, desire or ability to transform.

Is that the “Agile way”? Come on, we know better.

You’ve heard Daniel Joseph Mezick make this point, time and time again. And yes, some of us have offerings on “more AGILE Agile Transformations”, for example OSA and ES — Agile Transformation, but we are not even close to make a dent in the overall picture.

3. Agile Frameworks

There are many things about the Agile Frameworks that are NOT very Agile:

a) Development and Publishing. The way they are published (as Jurgen Appelo recently pointed out in his article “Agile Methodologies are NOT Agile”)

b) Genericity. The way they map to different domains — most Agile Frameworks are just for “software” or “product” development. Enterprise Scrum is the exception as it handle 50+ different activities.

c) Scaling. The way they scale. Most frameworks, have ONE option to scale, as if the scaling problem space was so simple or static. And most frameworks only scale within Software Development or Product Development. Again, Enterprise Scrum is the exception, as it has 1024 combinations to scale.

d) Configuration. How configurable are Agile Frameworks? Well, most Agile frameworks don’t have fully explicit configuration options, or only make some parameters visible. For example, Scrum allows you to configure it with 1, 2, 3 or 4 week Sprints, but there are very many other choices that are tacit, for example, the introduction of techniques such as User Stories, User Story Mapping, Moscow criteria, Architecture Scan, Release Planning. Enterprise Scrum is an exception here as well, as it provides very many explicit configuration options.

e) Guidance. For some “Agile Framework”, even in the guidance they provide is not very Agile e.g. SAFe; ok, it is more Agile than waterfall, but is it really Agile?

4. Agile Coaches, Agile Trainers, Agile Leaders, Agile Developers

Let’s face it, as the interest in all things Agile has exploded, the percentage of truly qualified Agile people, is decreasing literally by the minute. Sadly, our industry knowledge is very diluted. I worry about this.

Again, we are trying to change this by providing high-quality education, but let’s accept it: we are not making a any substantial progress in “reversing the trend”.

My only hope is that even those “believing bad Agile” or “knowing bad Agile”, can benefit from it, and that therefore, this “gross collective ineptitude”, won’t “kill the Agile movement” in its entirety.

5. Agile Implementations

Finally, whether at the team, program, portfolio or Enterprise levels, the vast majority of people doing Agile implementations by whatever means, are not really following the Agile principles all that well:

  • they don’t collaborate all that well
  • they don’t deliver working software
  • they don’t talk to the customer all that much
  • they don’t respond to change very well
  • etc.

Yes, we do training and coaching, but again, and specially with so many new-comers, the percentage of “good Agile implementations” is decreasing by the minute.

Is there a way to change this and improve?

Yes, it’s an obvious answer …let’s make the Agile Movement more AGILE!!!

Well, until then, the above description is the ugly reality of the Agile movement right now.

And yet, I’m SUPER excited about Business Agility!!! 😂

I dream of the benefit and positive change that working in a more Agile way across all domains may bring to people around the world. I dream of an enhanced ability to please customers, to innovate, to keep employees motivated, all while making profits for stakeholders.

What do you think? I’m I just growing to be an overly critical, straight-shooter, grumpy old man? Or ….wait, there’s someone’s knocking at the door: I think they are representatives of the Agile Industrial Complex. They are now threatening me though a handheld loudspeaker:

“shut up ….or else” 😂.

All jokes aside …WE are part of this AIC — it’s not us vs them, it’s ALL of us involved with Agile one way or another, ….WE are the problem.

We, the Agilistas, …. are NOT that Agile!

Ok, here is the punch line, come on, you knew this was coming, I plead to You, the reader, that:

IF you understand the problems stated above, and since you made it reading this far, that it is your moral obligation now that you understand these problems to help in whatever shape or form, and in whatever role you are involved with, to IMPROVE the Agile Movement as much as you can!!

I’ll take that as a “YES”. Thank you in advance. I plead to to the same!

-Mike Beedle

creator of Enterprise Scrum, co-author of the Agile Manifesto


Enterprise Scrum Inc.