Anti-Agile

This month back in 2001, one of the most important documents in the modern software world was created. The Manifesto for Agile Software Development is considered the Magna Carta by most developers.

This watershed moment was the culmination of many different yet similar methodologies colliding together upon one singular thought. Software development was bogged down by the big bang, big budget waterfall approach and it was time for a major culture shift.

The specific methodology itself was not so important. It’s core principles guiding software development. That means delivering software faster, removing obstacles stalling development, learning continuously, and collaborating together to make better software.

Fast forward 17 years later, we are more collaborative and more agile, right? We certainly have more tools, there are lots more processes, and everyone talks about Agile. But is there any real Agile happening anywhere out there? Anyone?

What we mostly have is Anti-Agile. Rather than the light of better software delivery, we have a dark sickness taking over our working hours. It is called “making workitis” and it affects every bit of work you touch.

There are three types of work that occurs in most fields and professional endeavors:

  • Creative Work — This is think time used to solve hard problems. It sometimes looks like you are staring into a screen for hours, but this is where most groundbreaking work happens.
  • Productive Work — This is where you actually do things that have achieve results, often the outcropping of the creative work you did previously or routine work that is necessary.
  • Organizational Work — This is the coordination that put your productive work into manageable buckets. All the meetings, planning, and processes fall into this realm.

Want to take a guess what takes up the largest part of the day? It’s organizational work, the majority of our daily effort amounts to the work equivalent of junk food.

The very first line of the Agile Manifesto is total repudiation of this notion:

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”

We have lots of tools pushing work around. We have plenty of Jira tasks. We have an endless stream of @ mentions on Slack. But when are we truly collaborating and engaging with others in a meaningful way. When are we solving real problems?

I am fond of saying ‘let’s do less “make work” stuff and do more ”work smart” stuff’. Things like project management, task tracking, email, documentation, etc. are in that “make work” camp and are a time vortex. Whereas things like writing code, solving problems, learning new skills, and brainstorming ideas are what we want to spend more time on.

Don’t get me wrong, orchestration of work matters. And the larger the organization, the more such management structures are necessary. The problem is that we tend to over-invest in management and under-invest in things that foster creative and productive work.

The big companies are starting to get it though. Companies like Verizon and FedEx are implementing DevOps practices and setting up Dojos to be more agile and responsive to business partners. They are undergoing the culture change to be agile and deploying tools that allow teams to “work smart” rather than get bogged down with “make work” stuff.

What are the things you have found that allows you to work smarter in your team or organization? Let me know, I would love to feature you in a future post!

Why can I touch aluminum foil in the oven and not get burned?

Did a bunch of cooking this weekend and wondering this myself…


I work on the Stack Overflow Enterprise team and help companies solve the challenges of easily sharing tech knowledge internally through a private version of our Q&A technology and our community building implementation expertise.