Agile crisis. What to do?

Original author: Maurice “Mo” Hagar
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Key points
  • Many organizations are tired of Agile
  • Part of the problem is the existence of Agile's large commercial industry
  • We need to return to the basics: the simplicity of the Manifesto and 12 principles
  • Examples of basic and simple frameworks: Heart of Agile and Modern Agile
  • Many lessons can be learned from such humanities as positive psychology, directed self-improvement, and solution-oriented therapy.

"Agile agile agile agile agile agile agile agile agile."

Mantra? Not really, although it can cause an altered state of consciousness.

“The answer to the main question of life, the universe, and all that?” (Douglas Adams, “A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy”). Maybe depending on whom to ask.

These are homonyms. Words that look and sound the same but have different meanings. How is it a grammatically correct sentence, consisting of three completely different words: “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo”, Dmitry Borgmann, “Beyond the language: the journey of words and thoughts” (the phrase can be translated like this: “Buffalo buffalo, which are frightened by buffalo buffalo , frighten other buffalo buffalo ”- approx. per.).

The risk of excessive homonymization lies in the fact that words begin to mean everything and everyone, at the same time not meaning anything concrete. This is a psychological phenomenon known as “semantic satiation,” a form of mental fatigue .

As the psychologist Leon James describes:

This is called reactive inhibition: when the neuron fires for the first time, then the second pulse needs more energy, and even more the third time, and finally, for the fourth time it will not even respond if you do not wait a few seconds ... if you repeat the word, the meaning continues to repeat, and then becomes immune or more resistant to recall.

Today “Agile” means everything and everything. Increasingly, this does not mean anything. Many organizations have become difficult or resistant to the term, as in the Agile agile agile agile agile agile agile agile offer.

And the situation is even worse. “When words lose their meaning, people lose their freedom,” - Confucius. In some organizations, the term Agile has come to mean "command and control." Kent Beck voices alarm experts:

I was at an Agile Africa conference in South Africa, someone came up to me and said: “We want to do software development, but we just can't stand all these Agile ceremonies and stuff. We just want to write some programs. ” I almost cried ... how could it happen that we returned twenty years ago? (personal correspondence, cited with permission).

This is a good and important question. And raises other important questions, for example, “What to do next?” Recently, Ron Jeffries presented a very real opportunity :

It's time to try something new, and here it is: developers should give up Agile ... I'm really starting to think that no software developers should stick to any method called “Agile”. When these methods appear locally, they too often interfere, and do not help good software development.

Whatever we decide, let's start by recognizing that many of us Agile activists are exacerbating the situation. As Pogo told Porkipayn: “We met the enemy - and it turned out that it was us ourselves” (Walter Kelly, “Pogo”). Martin Fowler put it this way at Agile Australia 2018:

... The Agile industry (Agile Industrial Complex), imposing methods on people ... is an absolute parody. I was going to say “tragedy”, but I think that “parody” is better suited, because, after all, there is no universal approach to software development. Even Agile supporters say this methodology is not for everyone. Everything should be decided by the development team. This is the fundamental principle of Agile. It even means that if a team does not want to work in a flexible way, then Agile is no longer suitable for it, and [abandonment of Agile] is the most flexible way for it to develop in a strange distorted world of logic. So this is the first problem: the Agile industry and the imposition of one of the best way to work. This is what we must fight.

Agile Industry. Dark Agile. Fake Agile. Zombie Agile. And it gets worse. Here is what my friend, an organizational psychologist, says:

Agile is a virus that spreads throughout the enterprise. And you should not be surprised at the growing resistance. Because this is what antibodies naturally do when antigen invades. (personal correspondence)


Here's what it looks like: an invasion. Because your “experts” in business transformation are surprisingly little aware of organizational dynamics and the psychology of change. One glaring example: do you understand what resistance you instantly create - at several levels - when you declare someone to be a "master"? Especially when the only skill he has is two-day courses! (from there)

Oh. I did not dare to tell her that the “trainers” were also appointed after two-day courses. Recently, I heard one of these “trainers” ask: “Does Agile need a very good project manager?”

“Yes, of course, you need a first-class project manager, iteration manager, scrum master, whatever you call him, who speaks quietly but he walks with a very big stick! ”

Just the tears in his eyes are welling up.

One of my clients, having studied the extensive certification landscape, opened his own service. Now, dozens of scrum masters and product owners proudly show it in their offices: Agile Yahoo.

What's next?

Domestic Politics - Agile World

Domestic policy is a broad and comprehensive strategy, or a specific plan, or even a simple principle of managing internal affairs.

In the era of Agile's expansion - business transformation - let's first clarify what we mean by “Agile agile agile”.

To state what should be obvious, here is a simple principle: any Agile must explicitly or implicitly refer to the four core values ​​and 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto . It should contain Agile “hints”.

We need to get back to basics. Agile needs a reboot. Flexible teams should regularly review the Manifesto and the 12 principles: what does this mean? How are we doing? How to continue moving in this direction?

In part, this means constantly limiting your own flexible practices so that they remain flexible. “Simplicity is essential” (12 principles) is the “key” of Agile, and we must follow our own principles.

Everything is really simple, very simple, says Dave Thomas:

Find out where you are. Take a small step toward the goal. Adjust your understanding based on what you have learned. Repeat.

Similarly, Alistair Cockburn's Heart of Agile is an agnostic approach based on a simple structure: collaborate, deliver, reflect and improve. Joshua Kerievsky’s Modern Agile is based on four simple principles: make people amazing, make security a must, quickly experiment and learn, and always benefit.

Foreign Policy - Beyond the Agile World

Foreign policy is a broad and comprehensive strategy, or a specific plan, or even a simple principle of managing external affairs.

In the era of Agile's expansion - business transformation - let's first clarify what we mean by “Agile agile agile”.

When groups of people, such as Agile activists, travel to other countries, a clash of cultures inevitably occurs.

The first Agile expeditions were characterized by gunboat diplomacy. For example, the conquest of Project Management is almost complete.

Now we come across strange new countries, such as Human Resources, and meet groups of people who call themselves organizational psychologists, and they have more certificates than ours.

What is our diplomatic policy? Do we consider ourselves raiders or traders?

Let us beware of the naive - and doomed to failure - colonialism, which assumes that we are superior to the natives, whom we should cultivate for their own good and profit.

Moreover, one should beware of one's own assimilation, like the once formidable Vikings, who disappeared into the fog of legends. For example, I belong to the growing global Agile integration movement with positive psychology, Appreciative Inquiry and Solution Focused Brief Therapy, see my article on Solution-Oriented Agile. At the same time, more and more of my colleagues are removing the word “Agile” altogether, since they have completely assimilated into another world.

In general, our foreign policy is to work not in a melting pot, but in a mixture of components.

This approach is illustrated by a simple conflict resolution matrix (adapted from here ). Our position is not to compete (Agile wins) and not to give in (Agile loses), but to cooperate (business wins).

This is an example of the effect of the Medici effect. The 2006 book of the same name by Frans Johansson greatly influenced my thinking. The Medici Effect, named after the 14th-century Italian family that triggered the European Renaissance, mentions breakthrough thinking and breakthrough innovations that often form from the big bang at the crossroads of different disciplines, cultures and industries. I immediately got the idea, because I was conducting experiments with explosions with a set of young chemists as a child.

The Medici effect answers a question that is sometimes asked to me: why do I rarely attend Agile events? The Agile community is important. But the Medici effect made me constantly go beyond what I already know. And I quickly discovered that for me, enlightenment and breakthroughs are often caused by interactions with military officers, religious leaders, poets, philosophers, biologists, and psychologists. Most of the work in my life has become a connection of points between these related, sometimes unrelated disciplines, and experimenting with new and different ways of working.


Interdisciplinary research, principles and practice are the future of Agile. That is why it is so important not to lose touch with the roots while we continue to use the word Agile. Please stop this "Agile Agile Agile blah blah blah."

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