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.

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