Agile does not work!

Kamil Senecki | 2023-01-23

Agile values

“Agile does not work!” is what I hear every time I share that I work as a Scrum Master. It is the same conversation I learn that Agile equals Scrum.

I like and enjoy Agile. It is probably the best approach to work on complex products so far. One can argue that it has become a victim of its success and does not work in many companies. It all boiled down to endless meetings, lack of responsibility, redundant bureaucracy, and people thinking that having planning every second week is enough to be agile.

Agile is simple at its core and its values are easy to remember.

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.

Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Working software over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation

Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.

Those values were a product of the IT experts who realized that the Waterfall approach was not working anymore. They noticed that if we plan everything whereas paying too much attention to details, we are prone to stick to that plan no matter what. The market started changing so fast that it was hard to keep up with it. Features conceived two years ago were getting obsolete.

Why do we plan our work?

We do not need to plan so far ahead if we work with software. There are lots of tools available that it takes hours, maybe days, to create a feature or even a product. We don’t need to spend a few months.

The cost of our failure is minimal.

The main difference between software development and other industries is the time needed to deliver something marketable. Instead of spending half the day planning, we can ask each developer to spend that time preparing a prototype. The best among those prototypes can turn into a feature in the next iteration.

Planning is crucial but does it have to take so much time?

Twitter on Agile frameworks

A few years ago, Andy Hund posted a tweet saying: “Agile now means we do half of #Scrum poorly and use Jira” He wanted to point out that lot of companies say they are agile, but, in fact, they only use a few elements of Scrum and Jira to track their activities.

Pragmatic Andy

Nigel Baker, a Scrum trainer and Agile Coach from the UK, says that SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) stands for Scaled Anti-patterns for Failed enterprises. It is a common misbelieve that we can take such a complex framework like SAFe and implement it for every company to make it agile. Although it may be possible to do so for small teams, this framework aims to be useful for enterprises. There is no magic spell that is going to make every company agile without checking the context. It should all happen organically, with an empirical approach and adjusting company structure.

Nigel Baker

If you wondered, SAFe is a set of organizational and workflow patterns for implementing agile practices at an enterprise scale. I highly recommend you check it out. Compare its values with the Agile one. It was too complicated for me.

SAFe values

There are many books and articles out there describing various frameworks that managers love. We should all remember that agile is about learning. We should experiment, and each team should adjust its process to its needs.

Create your own process

One of the Scrum trainers I had a workshop with said: “If you take an experienced and mature team of specialists and give them a free choice, they would eventually end up using their own Scrum” I think we can go one step further. It does not necessarily need to be a Scrum as the context may vary for every team, but it can be Agile.

For sure, Scrum is not the answer for every issue out there, but its values are relevant everywhere. Give your team the freedom, and as long as they work using Scrum values, they will end up with a process they like and enjoy.

  • Openness
  • Respect
  • Focus
  • Commitment
  • Courage

Why do managers want Scrum?

Scrum is a framework that helps us find issues. It solves none. This is something we often forget. There is one thing that managers always want to know.

“When would it be ready?”

Tris Oaten from the youtube channel No Boilerplate compared Scrum to a lightweight package in which Agile is being smuggled to companies that expect deadlines and time tracking. It is XP (extreme programming) that is inside.

There is nothing wrong with it. However, at some point, management will be obsessed with meetings, documentation, and time tracking. It gets even worse with all those consultants and training companies providing certificates and workshops. Scrum became a religion being sold at almost every corner. There are Agile evangelists everywhere, and it only makes it worse for developers, making them frustrated. They say frameworks do not work. We wanted to make Scrum popular, but we did it wrong. It is our fault.

Is there anything we can do?

Rethink the way you are estimating tasks.

Estimates meme

Do only things that matter

Check Agile values and redefine metrics. There should be the only one: working software. Other metrics may be essential, but it should be enough if you show your customer software that works. He is going to appreciate it.

I highly encourage you to read the agile manifesto, deliver value and skip everything that does not help you achieve the goal.

Till next time.