Build responsive teams with tweaks, not remakes

Andy Hunt, one of Agile Manifesto’s original authors, wrote a controversial post recently. He makes several arguments about Agile’s failings, and this one especially resonated with me:

Since agile methods conveniently provide some concrete practices to start with, new teams latch on to those, or part of those, and get stuck there.

I’ve seen this phenomenon firsthand. A team settles on a system as the solution to their productivity problems. They get bogged down in rules and convention, and integrate too quickly. The process stalls and dies. As Hunt argues, without flexibility, the company loses sight of their productivity goals.

From my experience, tweaks to a team’s workflow process works best, not wholesale remakes. Complete workflow conversions to Agile, Scrum, Lean, Holocracy, or other methodologies often isn’t necessary. Doing so often backfires.

Instead of adopting every aspect of Agile at once, start with just stand-ups. There are also simpler alternatives to sprint planning meetings, retrospectives, and a review. Just hold a team meeting so the team can assign work to themselves. You’ll get the benefits of modern methodologies — transparency, fairness, autonomy — without following them slavishly.

Don’t lose sight of the goal because collaboration is critical in today’s tech world. Our attention has shifted beyond laptops and desktops to phones, tablets, wearables, and more. Across different platforms, we access apps and the web with different contexts and needs. No individual can master everything; this makes tight collaboration and communication much more important. Yet too many teams feel the only reasonable change is wholesale reinvention, or bust. Tweaks, not remakes, are a more sensible solution.

This post is a smaller point from a larger webinar, “Building Responsive Teams”, that I gave previously. Watch the archive at InVision.

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