Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Introspective: Agile is an Arsenal, Not a Silver Bullet

I recently gave a presentation to my local PMI Chapter entitled, "Agile is an Arsenal, Not a Silver Bullet". You can view the visual cues I used at The point of the presentation was that Agile means the manifesto and principles, so when someone says, "We're going AGILE!" your first question should be, "What do you mean by that?" There are so many approaches and practices available that using the term "Agile" is not adequate. Further, it is possible to employ Agile techniques improperly to actually make the organization less Agile. You could also apply "surface level Agile", which is basically a facade for the status quo.

When I talk about "going Agile", I make it clear that I mean "Being Agile". I want people to understand the principles and paradigm that the original Agile Manifesto Signatories had in mind. I want them to understand why popular Agile techniques are so popular so that they don't misuse them.

One of the gentlemen who attended my presentation came up to talk to me afterward. He said he had some Agile horror stories that he intentionally didn't bring up as a professional courtesy. I promptly chastised him, saying that the horror stories would have illustrated my point! He took me out to lunch yesterday to talk me through one of them. Sure enough, they were stories of salesmen who came into an organization that was already on an Agile trend and shoved them into the mold he was familiar with. It was not an incremental change - heck, it wasn't even an improvement! It was nothing more than an off-the-shelf methodology with all the right buzz words. This experience left a bad taste in his mouth for Agile.

I've often said that the biggest hindrance to an Agile adoption is that people will think you're trying to sell them a Silver Bullet. When they do, they will usually react one of two ways: 1) they will jump in without fully understanding and have their unrealistic expectations shattered; or 2) they'll be smart enough to know there's no such thing and turn on Agile with precision cynicism. Invariably, when I explain to people what Agile really means and the importance of "Being Agile", people get it and buy in. They make it their own and take charge in their personal and organizational transformation. They build their arsenal and never settle for what they have.

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