10 Misconceptions about Agile

Co-designed & authored with Stephanie BySouth

Be prepared to bust some myths.

“Busting Myths” by Tom Small

Early May we facilitated a bootcamp session for SEEK’s 1st CareerFest with the goal to provide insights into our area of work in 45 minutes. Our target group was diverse: from people potentially new to Agile to people with different levels of experience in Agile. We therefore decided on an interactive session on the 10 misconceptions of Agile.

We promoted our session with:

“Agile is NOT just having sticky notes on the wall.”

When asked what Agile stands for, some people say:

  • Sticky notes on a wall
  • Standups
  • Retrospectives
  • Ad-hoc
  • No planning
  • Lack of discipline
  • “It’s not for us”
  • “We’re super Agile”.

We’d like to take you on a short journey to bust some of the myths in the above statements. Our myth hunt will have 3 parts:

  1. Myth — What is the Myth?
  2. Truth — What is actually happening?
  3. Reflect & Apply — How does this Myth & Truth apply in your work?

Myth #1 — “Agile is only sticky notes on a wall, plus standups!”

“do it” by flickr user hang_in_there

When you watch a movie, all you see is the characters, the stageand the story. This is the same with Agile. As a passer-by we don’t see what’s hidden.

Truth #1

“The Central Perk set from Friends“ by William Warby

What happens behind the scenes? What hard work goes into pre-production, filming and post-production to bring the story to life? In Agile this translates to us not seeing the teams’ and their leaders’ efforts in:

  • Collaboration
  • Business Outcomes (Product & Tech)
  • Leadership
  • Transparency
  • Reflection
  • Improvement
  • Culture

Myth #1 — Reflect & Apply
Take a moment to apply myth & truth #1 to your area of work:

  • Question 1: What opportunities are there to improve ways of working in your area?
  • Question 2: Where else could Agile help you?
  • Experiment 1: Which experiment can you run for this myth and truth?

Myth #2 — “Agile means no planning!”
Agile is often confused with no planning, being ad-hoc and doing whatever comes to mind. Either because of Myth #1 or because sometimes teams do not take time to plan for their vision. This leads to the perception that Agile is not effective.

Truth #2
The truth is that we actually plan continuously in Agile. This is to mitigate the risk of building a product that isn’t proved to be valuable to the customer and our business. A massive plan created upfront can follow incorrect assumptions.

Footy, soccer ball, footy. (by Stephanie BySouth)

We want to check in and adapt our plans in a timely fashion. Frequent collaboration to validate and plan the remaining focus ensures agile teams know ‘which ball’ was actually intended.

The Agile Planning Onion (Mike Cohn, Mountain Goat Software)

Agile works within multiple planning dimensions with different levels of granularity. These are updated in a regular and timely manner to ensure we integrate the feedback we gather on the way.

Myth #2 Reflect & Apply
Take a moment to apply myth & truth #2 to your area of work:

  • Question 1: Where are you over-planning?
  • Question 2: Where aren’t you responding enough?
  • Experiment 2: Which experiment can you run for this myth and truth?

Myth #3 — “Agile means no discipline!”
Sometimes teams are faced with the misconception that Agile means no discipline. People can just do what they want, pick and choose what to work on and come and leave whenever they want. This surely leads to chaos!

Truth #3

“A chaotic roundabout in Paris” by Marcel Sala

In Agile we want to give as much guidance as needed to the teams. We provide a vision plus the goals and constraints around how we will work together. Additionally we nurture a culture of trust so that teams will hold each other accountable. This is similar to cars navigating through a roundabout. Their goal is to drive home to their loved ones and arrive safely. The guidance is the roundabout. The rules about how to navigate it are the constraints. The level of trust is that people with a driver’s licence know how to drive safely and will reach their goals, i.e. destinations. In our world the trust lies in having people with the right expertise on the team. Hire them and trust them to do their best work in the environment you nurture.

Myth #3 Reflect & Apply
Take a moment to apply myth & truth #3 to your area of work:

  • Question 1: What is the guidance in your area?
  • Experiment 3: Which experiment can you run for this myth and truth?

Myth #4 — “Agile is binary: You do it or you don’t!”
“But we’re already doing Agile!” Why would we need to improve how we’re working? Why would we need a Coach? We have our sticky notes, our wall, our standups, our retros. It’s all good.

Truth #4

“Eyes on the ball….” by Mike Hauser

Think about Australian league football players. The pros started learning the rules of football and how to kick a ball at a young age. Some of their mates might have moved on and just kicked the ball in their leisure time now and then. They are still able to play footy by the rules. But to truly master the art of football, the pros have had continuous training, multiple times a week. They practice every element of football to increase their muscle memory.

AFL Hawks vs Port Adelaide by Tom Reynolds

This also applies to Agile. Of course you will learn the basics in training or by experiencing it within your teams. But if you want to be a high performer like the footy pros you’ll want to keep up with your training. With every change in a team, — people leaving, people joining — there’s a chance for things to improve and to deteriorate. Keeping us, as well as our processes at their best requires continuous practice and coaching.

Myth #4 Reflect & Apply
Take a moment to apply myth & truth #4 to your area of work:

  • Question 1: How are you growing your own athleticism at work?
  • Experiment 4: Which experiment can you run for this myth and truth?

Myth #5 — “We’re too busy to be Agile!”
We’re too busy in our day to day work and in delivering our business outcomes to take time to stop, learn, and improve.

Truth #5

“Dull Axe” by Clint Budd
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln).

Taking time to stop and improve will make you faster in the long run. Taking the time to assess how effective we are in how we work, how we act, how we lead, will yield more valuable outcomes at a quicker rate.

Myth #5 Reflect & Apply
Take a moment to apply myth & truth #5 to your area of work:

  • Question 1: What is your axe that you could sharpen regularly?
  • Question 2: How can you sharpen your axe?
  • Experiment 5: Which experiment can you run for this myth and truth?

And, last but not least:

Myth #6 — “Everything in the backlog needs to be done!”
Wait, what?! Isn’t the post about the 10 Misconceptions of Agile, not about the 6 misconceptions of Agile? We are often under the assumption that everything that has been laid out before us, is what needs to be done.

Truth #6

Find the gems! (“Expensive Depth of Field” by TVZ Design Follow)

Our CareerFest bootcamp session had a limited timebox of 45 minutes. With this limited resource we had to find the gems that provided the biggest value to our customers: the bootcamp’s participants. We followed the Pareto principle (80/20 rule). We’ll get 80% of the desired results (i.e. top 6 misconceptions) with 20% effort (i.e. our 45 minutes). The rest of the 20% value would consume 80% of our time.

Myth #6 Reflect & Apply

  • Question 1: Are you doing too much?
  • Question 2: Where are the jewels you could focus on?
  • Experiment 6: Which experiment can you run for this myth and truth?

This ended the myth busting journey in our session and has also ended it for you in this blog post. We finished off our session with the participants sharing an aha-moment with the group.

What is your aha-moment?

I challenge you to take your first small step and choose one of the experiments we’ve listed above. Enjoy!

What Agile myths have you come across?

→ You can also use this format for an Agile mythbusting retrospective https://medium.com/@stephaniebysouth/how-to-run-an-agile-mythbuster-retrospective-c971cead8b59

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