Agile Methodology Today (is mostly not very Agile)

This is not a personal judgement, but is symptomatic of being selective in how change is done in most companies. Most companies understand there to be many benefits with the adoption of agile methods in a company, but equally many would struggle to clearly state how those benefits are delivered. Without that understanding, the headlines become the detail, and initiatives are started with the headlines in mind, not the practices themselves. I hear things like this a lot:

Many companies I meet are going, or have gone, agile – but almost all of them are not.

This is not a personal judgement, but is symptomatic of being selective in how change is done in most companies. Most companies understand there to be many benefits with the adoption of agile methods in a company, but equally many would struggle to clearly state how those benefits are delivered. Without that understanding, the headlines become the detail, and initiatives are started with the headlines in mind, not the practices themselves. I hear things like this a lot:

  • “we incorporate many of the agile practices here”
  • “we do agile project management
  • “the 3-month iteration”
  • “Agile PMO”
  • “agile does away with writing down requirements

In reality, transitioning a team or whole company to agile is to immerse in it completely, but the trend is more to dip a toe in the water, or extract the elements of it which seem less disruptive to the existing methods and approaches. While it’s clear that this is a way to balance the risk and disruption of change, one of the most rewarding outcomes of the transition to agile is the thinking that is forced on people to consider which of the things they do are truly worthwhile, and which are a result only of the way they work. As Jack Welch of GE famously stated, “Willingness to change is a strength even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while”. For most organisations, transitioning to agile methodology will create this “total confusion” since it should affect almost everything they do, including not just their internal processes but right through to the way they manage their customer relationships and partnerships.

Agile is not a passing trend, or at least should not be, since its value is robust and is sustained on much more than the way an organisation sees itself – much more importantly its sustained on the way that it affects the organisation’s ability to deliver better products and services, faster, at optimal cost. The caution is that going “Selectively Agile” will not probably affect very much at all, and may result in a company resorting to other approaches or solutions having decided that agile is not for them. This would be a missed opportunity – since agile offers substantive change more than any of its predecessors have over the last 20 years, and if we refer to the market evaluations such as the Chaos manifesto, the evidence is that all of that effort, invention and innovation has not really improved the capability of the industry at all.

So while we celebrate many new ideas, achievements and innovative solutions in these awards, we should not lose sight of the truly important things that we must strategically pursue as an industry that will provide real, sustainable improvement. Continual effort to make traditional waterfall, PMO-driven or command-and-control approaches workable in today’s marketplace will surely only become harder and harder.

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