Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Madge I'll - Agile Posers

When I meet someone who wants to talk about Agile I start by asking, "What do you know about Agile?" Most of the time I begin to hear those key buzzwords the newly indoctrinated are so proud to spout off: "It's where, instead of Waterfall," said with a grin and a wink, "your scrum has sprints and they stand up and there's no requirements and you demo and it's amazing!" I often think to myself, "Seriously? Why do these people think this?" So recently I decided to apply Occam's Razor and ask what the simplest answer is. My conclusion? Somebody told them this.

Consultant Speak*

Okay, so I don't think anyone told them something quite so incoherent as what I put, but they definitely started out with 1) a specific methodology in mind, almost certainly Scrum, and 2) an unholy amount of buzzwords and Agile vocabulary to accentuate just how different Agile is from the dreaded Waterfall. I get it - you're probably (relatively) new to Scrum and you're super excited about it and want the whole world to know how it changed your life. Unless, of course, you're a consultant who's trying to confuse a potential client into throwing money at you to turn their IT shop around. Tsk, tsk.

"...It's Not What You SAY, It's What You HEAR!"
The problem is these people don't know what Agile is. They don't fully understand what it is they're saying. All they know is that if they keep saying certain words with enough conviction then people will think they know what they're talking about. It reminds me of the game "Mad Gab". In case you're not familiar, players in the game read words on a card that don't really make any sense. They're not supposed to. The words on the cards, said with the correct inflection and pacing, are supposed to sound just like a commonplace phrase that your team is trying to guess. For example, these new, hopeful, and largely ignorant future Agilists are saying "I Madge I'll" in hopes that you'll hear "I'm Agile"! The problem is they aren't.

Agile Posers

I was recently working with a fellow Agile Coach (I know, I don't care for the term, either, but I'm not sure what else to call him) and we were collaboratively taking notes via Google Docs. On occasion we would have an impromptu discussion in the document due to a tangent that our notes took us on. One such tangential conversation was about Agile Posers. It went a little something like this:
"‘how to spot an agile poser’ (consultant-speak?) who pretends to be someone who's not. 2. who tries to fit in but with exaggeration
urban dictionaryl33t speakpwned you, you poser
'5. Someone whos acts like someone they’re not,but not realizing that there being fake, basically a loser trying to fit in.' -
'6. A poser is someone who tries hard to be something they arent. Usually, posers call other people posers because they are jealous that the person they called a poser is more skater/stoner/goth/punk/rocker/grunge/Agile/etc. than they will ever be.' -
posers often fool themselves first.  they aren't always (deliberately) not
ask probing questions.  why do you like it, what was good, test their belief."
On the off-chance any of my readers are Trekkies...
Our conversation went on to include things such as mining for conflict and Open Space sessions as means to help draw out and coach Agile posers. Take another look at definition #5. These are the people I'm talking about here. Those who want to be Agile, who hear about it and crave to belong. They'll ask anyone who claims to be Agile what that means and they'll cling to whatever they're told. So what's the take-away here? Tell them the right thing!

Being Agile vs. Doing Scrum

When people ask me what Agile is, I always go to the Manifesto and backing Principles first. I emphasize over and again that Agile is a way of thinking, a paradigm, a perspective, an approach. Yes, there are implementations and yes, Scrum is the most popular by far and yes, there are those who will tell you that the definition of Agile is Scrum. I'm here to tell you that it's not.

So what's the harm in people thinking Agile is just Scrum? Scrum's not all that bad. Of course it's not. I love Scrum, it's helped my organization tremendously. The problem with believing that Agile is just Scrum is it sends you on a quest to be the best implementer of a set of practices. Your Retros will eventually dry up because you can't get any more Scrum-like. But you'll keep doing them because "that's Scrum." You have to understand why Scrum is set up the way it is. Why you're asked to perform certain ceremonies. You have to know in what direction to Adapt when you Inspect in your Retros. And, most importantly, you have to be willing to break the rules like an artist once you've mastered them. You have to be willing to try things that are not in the Scrum Guide. You need Kaizen!

I'm Right!.. Am I Right?

As per usual, I don't have much to go on here other than my experiences and the stories I hear from others. So I want to know: What does being an "Agile Poser" mean to you? Have you experienced those "Mad Gab" Agile enthusiasts? Have I hit the mark on being Agile versus doing Scrum, or am I way off base? I want to know what you think, and I want to use your ideas to make myself better (being completely transparent here). Please leave a comment or shoot me a message on LinkedIn. I'd love to hear from you.

* I received some feedback that this post was offensive to consultants. I would like to clarify that I am not trying to group all consultants together and say that they are all this way. I am basing this on conversations I've had with people who were introduced to Agile by these types of consultants; observations from a friend who is a former consultant; and my first-hand experience with sub-par consultants. I know there are amazing consultants out there - I've met them, too, and admire the work they do - but there are an alarming number of consultants out there who do fit this bill.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Descriptive versus Prescriptive

“Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.” -Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto signatory, from his October 2006 blog post, “Agile Imposition”

As a member of the SAFe community, I've heard and experienced a lot of concern and displeasure with what is perceived as a highly prescriptive Agile framework. However, having actually met and worked with Dean, Colin, and Alex, I have never felt they were trying to shove a framework down my throat. To me it felt more like "your organization is new to Agile and we come with decades of experience; try this framework on, including all of these recommended practices, see how it fits, then tailor it accordingly." Granted, that vibe came from face-to-face conversations, not websites and white papers.

This problem is not unique to SAFe. Pure Agilists have always pushed for a more "hands-off" approach. It's interesting to me how married some of agilists become to a certain methodology - conversations with these people usually boil down to "you should let people do whatever they want, but if you're a good coach and they really get the principles then they're most likely going to go with my favorite methodology." This is often coupled with, "I also offer Agile Coaching services..." The problem is, they've got a point about the coaching. You can't leave teams all to themselves; you have to support them somehow. I'm not saying all Agile teams need a dedicated Agile Coach, but they need the resources necessary to ensure the direction in which they adapt is in accordance with Agile principles and the environment that will support them when (not if) they fail.

Many of my thoughts on this subject have recently been affected by the information I was recently exposed to at One of the references cited is Martin Fowler's "Agile Imposition" - an article written nearly seven years ago and more relevant now than ever before. Of course, Fowler and Open Agile Adoption are both focused more on organizational transformation than prescriptive frameworks, but I think the principles still apply. It all boils down to enacting change through influence but without mandate. It's a principle that every good Scrum Master is already familiar with - Servant Leadership. You've got to not only lead the horse to water but get them to realize just how parched they are!

So how do you do this within the context of a framework? My opinion: change the way you say what you're trying to say. More specifically, make it clear why you recommend certain practices, when they're relevant and highly likely to improve results, and when it might make sense to try something else. You're still going to lay out the recommended practices, but you'll be taking a descriptive approach to explaining them rather than a prescriptive approach.

The Scrum Alliance uses the term "Common Practices" instead of "Best Practices" to describe what would traditionally be considered "Best Practices". By changing the term they change the reader's perception. They're not saying "you need to do this or you can't be considered among the 'best'"; they're saying "this is something that a lot of people do in this situation, and here's why." That's the approach the entire industry needs to be taking. I would bet that many framework authors already think that way. The problem is that way of thinking is not reflected in their writings.

What do you think? Does this resonate, or am I way off base? How would you expect websites and other communication regarding what are typically seen as "prescriptive frameworks" to change to be more in line with a descriptive approach?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Respectfully Real Guest Blogger

"Respect for the Individual is a part of my company’s culture and a huge part of my personal belief structure. When I was a kid and would get in a fight with my siblings my parents usually took the 'stop your fighting now; kiss and make up' approach. So, as I grew up and entered High School, University, and the workforce, that was the approach I would most often take; if I saw conflict arise I would encourage the parties involved to stop fighting and 'kiss and make up', as it were. What I've come to understand as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach is that conflict is not always a bad thing. In fact, in order for self-organized teams to reach their fullest potential, conflict is necessary."

Hopefully that piqued your interest enough to want to read the rest. However, I'm not going to publish the full post here - this is a snippet of the post I published as a guest blog on is a great blog that's primarily authored by two people, Ed Wehr and Valerie Santillo. Valerie is the blog's creator and a friend of mine that I met in D.C. when I got my SAFe Program Consultant certification. Hopefully you'll not only check out the rest of my blog post but read the wealth of information made available there by Valerie, Ed, and others. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 5, 2013


I work for a company that is predominantly (for the time being, anyhow) NOT Agile. As a person who is passionate about Agile and leads one of three areas in his Division that are all-Agile, this wreaks havoc on my job title. Technically, my job title is "Systems Analyst". But I'm not that. That doesn't describe what I do at all, really. Maybe if you use "System" to refer to a team of people, as in Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd's teachings. However, that's not what the title is meant to refer to internally. So I'm stuck with the dilemma of how I describe who I am and what I do for the company.

Okay, I know I started this post out on a somewhat pessimistic note, but I have to be honest: coming up with my own job title has been fun. It's rather liberating to just make something cool-sounding up when you are asked what you do. One example of this is my LinkedIn profile, where I brand myself as a "SAFe RTE, Agile Evangelist, and Scrum Ninja". What does that mean? Exactly what it sounds like. I've also referred to myself as a Defender of the Agile Brand; Agile Enthusiast; Head of the Walmart Agile User Group (which isn't so much silly, as I really did found and lead the Walmart Agile User Group); and Über Scrum Master (I really like that one because the Ü looks like a ridiculously happy face). I also have a whole slough of non-Agile titles that describe me outside of my professional life, such as Dad, Brother, Son, Captain Obvious, and Snarky McSarcasticson.

Titles are a funny thing because they define so much of who we are, whether we want them to or not. In some cases, such as my "Systems Analyst" title, that can be a bad thing (read more about the cons of titles here). Yet I wouldn't refer to myself as anti-titles. I consider myself a proponent of creative, descriptive, and self-appointed titles. Your title should be part of your brand. If you don't live up to your title then it quickly becomes apparent and does you more harm than good, so it's in your best interest not to pick something entirely inappropriate.

What do you think? Are you a fan of titles? If so, what titles do you hold? If not, how do you describe yourself succinctly when asked what you do?