Matthew Kern recently published a controversial post: Agile is dead. We asked two of our coaches what they thought about it. Is it really the end of Agility? Here is the opinion of Steffan Surdek and Marc-André Langlais.
Personally, I believe there is a certain degree of truth in Kern’s statement. However, it has probably been written to provoke and initiate discussions.
It’s true that there is a certain commercial side to Agility with certifications, frameworks (SaFE, DAD, etc.) allowing numerous consultants to earn a living as well as many other things that do not come to my mind right now… There’s always a commercial reality that cannot be avoided. In that world, Agility is often presented as a process to be implemented.
On the other hand, what annoys me is how the “Agile” term is overused in many organizations. It sometimes refers to magical thinking: “If you were more Agile, things would get better.” Sometimes, it is also a symbol of cynicism: “We do a poor job and do things quickly, but it’s all right because, you know, we are Agile!”
I believe that part of reality lies in the fact that organizations often do not know what they are getting into when adopting Agility. They think that it’s simply about implementing a new process, but forget that there is an impact on managers who must change their leadership style. They forget the impact on the members of the development teams who do not always have the capacity to work in a self-organizing team.
Matthew Kern is right on target with his article. However, it is important to read is second post in order to understand his intention well: Agile is dead 2. Indeed, marketing agencies and intentionally profit-oriented consulting firms have conducted an Agile transformation in their own way; that is, they transformed a set of values and principles into products that, as Kern describes it, are saturating the market.
What I find reassuring in the fact that I’m part of an organization like Pyxis is that not only we rely on Agile tools and technologies but also (and most importantly) on Agile know-how and life skills within the context of our interventions. “Agile, the Product” is like a bad remake of a good film. It negatively tinctures the initial intention of the Agile Manifesto. However, “Agile, the Values and Principles” is a pretty good classic such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
If you are among those who believe that Agility appeared upon the signature of the Manifesto, it’s not the case. In fact, Agile principles and values result in the desire to have better organizations with a consciousness that is way more human. What are Agile values besides the strong desire to have a place where teams can create value, collaborate, be fully committed and rapidly respond to change?
This desire for a better world that is more performing and sustainable was stated for one of the first times in the principles of William Edwards Deming. And, after almost 70 years, certain organizations are still reacting to his work. Deming’s work is, in fact, the source of continuous improvement that is still adopted by organizations nowadays. Thanks to continuous improvement, the Lean method has been sustained in organizations for decades … and is still being used.
Therefore, yes, Agile is dead, and long live Agile! For, as long as our initiatives will rely on the Agile values and principles rather than on its methods and tools, organizations will seize the opportunity to adopt Agility.
How do we coach organizations wishing to become Agile so they reap the benefits of Agility?
Now, when I talk about my work, I no longer describe myself as an Agile coach; instead, I explain that what I do is organizational development. In the previous question, when I was talking about capacity, this part is the key. For an Agile transformation to be sustainable, it is important to develop the people’s capacity in order for them to be able to support the transformation after we are gone.
What is the personal touch you bring to Agile approaches that make a difference for the client?
Part of my work is to help teams adopt Agile approaches, but this is only one aspect. I also have to work with managers so they can develop new management reflexes in order to allow their teams to self-organize. Furthermore, I help team members change the level of their conversations as a team.
I guide management teams in their learning of how to work as a team together in order for them to be a model to their respective teams on the field. Whenever possible, I require from them the same transparency they request from their own teams.
Can you name organizations that have experienced an Agile success?
Although I find it disappointing, I do not know of many Agile projects that achieved the expected success. In fact, I only know of one. I think that one of the reasons is that I often worked in environments open to organizational changes. The problem is that too often there is a change of guard, and the successors regularly feel the need to get rid of what has been implemented by the predecessor. Unfortunately, this is what happens when the adoption of Agility is an initiative of a department rather than the organization.
The major Agile success that I know is that of the SQI (formerly SIQ). Multidisciplinary teams, fine-tuned committees, a monthly demo made by the Product Owners to the management teams … in a government context! The project progressed at a sustainable pace, the teams were motivated, and it was almost impossible to differentiate SQI’s staff from subcontractors. The project hit the wall when there was a change in government and the allegiances caused the departure of the high-level supporters of Agility.
On the other hand, the major failure has been in a small business located in the Québec City region, where the development team had decided to adopt Scrum to complete a project already in progress. The employee who introduced Scrum had just obtained his Scrum Master Certification. He had very good intentions, but he was in no way ready to overcome resistance from certain individuals as well as the team’s dysfunctions. In fact, the team was lacking supervision, support, and, above all, Agile expertise. Yet, the scenario was almost perfect given the project and it complexity level. Scrum disappeared when a new director with different intentions arrived in the department.
At Pyxis, how are we ensuring the evolution of Agility?
Our contribution to Agility is our focus on people. It is easier to simply implement a process, but much more difficult to work with people and have them being committed to change. Pyxis has made important investments during the last years to increase our coaching skills. Therefore, we have a much more significant impact on our clients.
At the beginning, we revolutionized Agile management tools with GreenHopper and Urban Turtle. According to me, the most important development at Pyxis has been that it allowed and encouraged Pyxissians to evolve at a personal level, to develop our soft skills. According to our clients, it’s Pyxis’ great strength. At the same time, it created a lot of uncertainties and unknowns within the organization. Change and evolution are both concepts of instability; and it may sometimes be toxic for environments to remain in such a mode. In short, we sometimes experience what our clients are experiencing, thus we are feeling and showing great empathy for them.
What do you think is the future of Agility? Are there new ways of doing or are we going back to the waterfall model? Is the DevOps trend really initiated?
I think that Agility is a continuity of Deming’s principles that appeared during the 60s. We simply renamed the principles and values in order to adapt to the technological context. Agile will not die tomorrow, because it consists of values and principles, not a methodology. Nevertheless, I think that methods such as Scrum will undergo changes or be dumped. As for DevOps, it’s only the addition of a much-needed axis; i.e., the continuous and inclusive support of operations. In brief, it’s a version of Scrum to which operational support has been added. I’m convinced that over the next 5 years we will witness further changes as well as the arrival of new methods.
Should Agility be restricted to software development or should it be applied to other fields?
Personally, I’d prefer Agility to be only applied to software development. That being said, I believe that the other fields should be inspired by Agility to develop their own framework. What would be even better: go back to Deming’s principles and use them to develop a framework. Let’s take Spotify as an example. This business created their own method based on their values. They are scoring big successes with their version of Agility, and I think it is within the reach of any organization really wishing to develop and to achieve their full potential.
Lastly, Matthew Kern furthers his thoughts in the second part of his article. With over 15 years of experience carrying out Agile projects and coaching teams, we can say that the practices have greatly evolved. The stage of Agile adoption has reached another level. Some apply the Agile philosophy quite well, others go even further by equipping themselves with tools to maximize the benefits. What’s most important is that we are all trying to improve the way we do things in our own way.