Sacred Agile

You know that when you deal with this type of topic, you are writing about a touchy subject. When I write that Agile has been sometimes sacralized, my aim is not to hurt any religious or philosophical belief, but rather to see how men behave when adopting new ideas. Raised as a catholic, what will follow is mainly comparison of the respective adoption patterns of Christian and Agile, but I think that it might apply to other philosophical and technological approaches. Ultimately, my conviction is that the values you are trying to respect in your daily personal and professional life are more important than what you claim to be. And sometimes laughing a little bit at ourselves can help to put things in perspective.

The year zero of the Agile movement is linked to the creation of the Agile Manifesto and its 12 principles. Like the 10 commandments, they should regulate the life of the Agilists. Like all texts, the Manifesto is subject to interpretation (exegesis) and to translation choices for non-native English persons, like me. This leads naturally to many different “flavors” of Agile based somewhat on differences as theoretical than theological quarrels. Some of the early Agile approaches, like the oriental Christian churches of the beginning of the Christian era, are now mostly forgotten. I doubt that there are still many practitioners of Feature Driven Development or the Crystal methodology.

Agilists, initially considered by traditional project management followers as “cow-boy” or “anarchists”, quickly also devised a name for their “devil”: the Waterfall. We all know that as developers, project managers and users we are not bad. We just had to follow all the wrong guidance of the PMI, RUP or Information Engineering that made success so difficult to achieve. The most ignored part of the Agile Manifesto is certainly ” while there is value in the items on the right”.

Agile, a much clever name than RUP by the way, slowly gained some recognition spread by the good work of people that we call sometimes “gurus” (and there are even technical people officially named “evangelists”). Scrum became the dominant approach, seducing by the simplicity of its concept. The world will evidently be a better place if we all love your neighbor as ourselves. Applying Scrum is however not always easy, this is why we saw the growth of a coaching (because thou shalt not associate the word Agile with the waterfally concept of consultants), providing people that can help us answer the tough question: “What would Mike Cohn have done in such situation?”. Don’t forget however that the value of counseling is to help you at getting better when you made decisions and not to decide for yourself…. even if sometimes we would prefer to put the burden of decision and responsibility on the shoulders of somebody else.

Agilists grouped themselves in big alliances. Some began to sell the “certifications” of being good Agilists, as the Catholic Church was selling indulgences to remit sins and guarantee access to the paradise in the Middle Age. As the Christian reformation movement, this also led to a schism and the creation of different certifications. Money might be also a motivation for the raise of new Agile “televangelists” (DAD, SAFe, Less) that started selling their own implementation of Agile values for those who had enough money to pay for it, that is large corporations. If you thought that being Agile was simple, you quickly find yourself with heavy books and imposing scheme that are not far away of those describing RUP or Information Engineering. The Waterfall might be in the details…

You can regularly read on the web that many people are “doing” Agile instead of “being” Agile. Some development teams could be indeed more concerned by respecting sacred rules, as the fact that your sprint length has to be exactly two weeks, instead of asking themselves what is the best thing to do in their context. This behavior is however a normal stage if you consider a “Shu-Ha-Ri” progression and not a problem there are some will to progress. Some team members are doing rituals like daily Scrum and the weekly retrospective meeting as they will go to church every week. You do this because it is what you do if you want to belong to the community, even if you don’t see any real benefit for your and your project. It is also a moment in time where you mind can sometimes easily travel away from what happens in these meetings.

You can follow blindly specific thinking from Agile textbooks or coaches. You can also try to devise your own interpretation of the Agile Manifesto according to context… and textbooks and coaches can help you doing this. You should also be cautious with people saying that there is one and only one way of doing things. There is no right answer, but if you want to be Agile, you should regularly get back to the original Agile Manifesto to think about what Agile is, how Agile you think you are and how you can improve. To paraphrase the poets “There is no Agile; there are only proofs of Agile behavior”.