Is Agile really Dead? Myths and beliefs on what Agile means today

I would like to share with you our thoughts, here at Beyond Lean Agile, about a much-discussed topic in the community.

More and more people keep stating that Agile is Dead and we want to shed some light on this phenomenon.

Photo by Jonathan Bowers on Unsplash.

A few days ago while having my coffee break, a moment of the day I really enjoy, I was catching up on some of the articles I’ve been meaning to read, to keep up with news from the community and industry.

I was reading “So If Agile Is Dead, What’s Next… Flow? by Fin Goulding”.

Immediately after finishing the article I’ve challenged my great friend and colleague Mike Sousa, to write our own piece on why we think Agile is Not Dead and share our arguments on the topic.

Before getting started we would like to make a disclaimer:

  • What you are reading here is not a criticism to the article written by Fin Goulding, rather it was inspired by the topic he approached and the claiming that ‘’Agile is Dead’’ as so many others that currently are available. We strongly believe that having different ideas and opinions is what helps us to keep learning and improving. Through the article, we will present our thoughts and bring some balance and support to the true meaning of the Agile Mindset definition.

Up for a challenge?

Before we dive into the topic,  we challenge you to do a quick Google search about “Agile is Dead”. For sure you will see that nowadays there are a huge number of articles and talks on this topic.

Screenshot taken from Google Search about “Agile is Dead”.

As we see it, all the headlines in the news about “Agile is Dead” are creating a lot of confusion and some people are really believing that this death of Agile is because it doesn’t work. Many times Agile is implemented with lightness and incomplete, or with the belief that it will be the “Silver Bullet” to solve all the problems. This thought leads to drastic and hasty conclusions about the efficiency of the mindset/methodology while disregarding essential factors such as culture, environment and customization.

What are Agile ‘’CAPITAL SINS’’?

While browsing through the numerous google results from our ‘’Agile is Dead’’ search, we found many ‘’points of accusation’’ sustaining the concept.

Since the purpose of our article is to defend the status of ‘’not guilty’’ it is only fair to have a look at the aspects people find of faulty with Agile:

  • Using non-tech staff to manage projects reduces the quality of code and refactoring;
  • It has a range of inapplicability for more non-technical functions;
  • Attempts to scale Agile to reach strategy fell short;
  • As opposed to Lean or Six Sigma, Agile is meant to increase volume;
  • Instead of a framework, Agile is more a marketing tool;
  • Low visibility of the software utility and performance makes it impossible to calculate ROI before the development starts;
  • Systematic study and observation can teach organization and be able to differentiate between self-inflicted problems and those problems you can’t control;
  • Last but not least, the initial guiding principles lacked one essential element – having the Agile Mindset.

When going Agile, there are several challenges, from setting up individual teams to clearly communicating the benefits. However, the biggest challenge remains to get the interfaces working properly and make teams and the organization itself, leave the old ways of working and assist them in adapting what is new.

Let’s start with the basics…

Before we start drilling down into the subject of this paper, we would like to give some context and make sure everyone is on the same page.

If we do a quick search on “What is the definition of Agile” we find that Agile is the ability to move quickly and easily. This means that Agile helps us to achieve performance, innovation while delivering fast and obtaining customer satisfaction.

Agile doesn’t mean ‘’do/say” what I want nor does it commit faster without factoring in all the risks, dependencies while lowering the delivered quality.

We believe the issue with the statement ‘’Agile is Dead’’ starts with understanding what Agile really means.

There is another great definition saying “Agile enables organizations to master continuous change. It permits firms to flourish in a world that is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous” from the Forbes article “What Is Agile? by Steve Denning”.

By coincidence, or not, Mike Sousa and I, attended the Agile Portugal 2018 Conference on the 25th of May 2018 and during the talk “Devops: The continuing evolution of operations” we heard Gareth Rushgrove share this Agile reminder:

Picture taken at the Agile Portugal 2018 Conference from the talk “Devops: The continuing evolution of operations” by Gareth Rushgrove.

So, why do people keep saying that “Agile is Dead”? Let’s think about what is Agile to us? What is our definition of Agile?

Agile is the founding mindset stone, based on which all the frameworks, systems and operating models are defined.

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash.

This means that before it all, what we really need is to understand the mindset properly and then develop the methods to adopt/do Agile in the right way.

After all, Agile is based on inspect and adapt (continuous improvement), culture, trust, collaboration and delivering value. This for us is the most basic Agile definition. All next steps can be adapted.

Why we say this?

It’s simple… Should we stick to a standard framework, system or operating model? Or should we be Agile and first of all understand what is the problem we are trying to solve and customize what operating model works for our business reality?

Let’s take a look at Spotify. Did they follow/adopted an existing operating model or did they go an extra mile to really understand what the problem was they wanted to solve? They went the extra mile and customized their operating model (Spotify Tribes Model) to respond to their real needs. Also, did they stop or did they continuously improved their operating model to constantly respond to their needs?

Like Spotify and Amazon, we have more companies that keep improving their ways of working every day so they can constantly exceed their goals.

So, returning to the Agile ‘’CAPITAL SINS’’. This is why we believe that the sins are not real:

  • Using non-tech staff to manage projects reduces the quality of code and refactoring;

Using non-tech staff to manage projects does not reduce the code quality since they shouldn’t be the ones writing or reviewing the code. There is a reason why there are different, well-defined roles when using any Agile methodology, so we can use the strength from each role and create dynamics. Diversity is what makes a team, project and business to succeed.

  • It has a range of inapplicability for more non-technical functions;

As we shared above, for us Agile is a mindset, the founding mindset stone. This means that any framework, system or operating model can be applied to any area and/or business.

For more details and examples please check our previous article “Can Agile be adopted by non-software development areas?

Most of the attempts to adopt or scale Agile fail because we are missing the most important point that is understanding what it really means. Understanding that Agile is about seeking to get better by continuously scanning the environment/process while empowering people to do so is the key element into extending the concept to a strategic level. It is people’s by in adopting the mindset that will allow large-scale success and focus on what is actually important for the business. The Agile Mindset helps tailor successful custom solutions and copy-pasting something designed for an organisation with different goals and challenges.

  • As opposed to Lean or Six Sigma, Agile is meant to increase volume;

Agile is the founding mindset stone also for Lean and Six Sigma since it provides the ability to move quickly and easily. It empowers organisations to respond to the constant changes and increase “customer satisfaction”. While a highly efficient and autonomous team will produce more in a shorter time, the end goals are to optimize resources, reduce waste and increase customer satisfaction.

  • Instead of a mindset, Agile is more a marketing tool;

Unfortunately, in many cases this is true. Nowadays people are selling Agile as a silver bullet solution since companies are being forced to “become Agile” due to the high trend in the industry. Being Agile is the magical word or the catchphrase that seem to be attracting more investments or increase sales and success rate.

Quoting Todd Little from the Forbes article “What’s Missing In The Agile Manifesto: Mindset” by Steve Denning.

“The first line of the Agile Manifesto is about valuing individuals and interactions ahead of tools and processes. Yet what do we see being sold in the marketplace, but processes and tools? Agile has become way too much about processes and tools, partly as a result of the way the economic engine works. People are looking for, and buying, processes and tools, when it should be about the Agile mindset.

That’s the challenge we face in keeping Agile truly Agile.”

We also have some common experiences were companies hired consultants to bring or define the  “magic solution”. However, after implementation, these companies declare themselves as being Agile, while in reality, they operate more or less the same while having invested in a concept that will not work if people don’t incorporate the mindset.

  • Low visibility of the software utility and performance makes it impossible to calculate ROI before the development starts;

We can forecast ROI but this will remain an estimation calculated for possible scenarios. While we are aware that ROI is in most cases a financial measurement of success, we are also focusing on the less tangible gaining’s. What could be a higher ROI than small and fast iterative deliveries with the capability to constantly have customer satisfaction? With these small chunks of continuous deliveries, companies have almost immediate ROI and the possibility of increasing product/service value by adding constant and real feedback.

  • Systematic study and observation can teach organization and be able to differentiate between self-inflicted problems and those problems you can’t control;

Systematics studies and assessments are important for gathering data and preparing us to respond to problems especially to the ones we can control. This data gives the ability to constantly inspect and adapt to the real work is – this being actually the Agile Mindset in action. We need to keep in mind that there is not always to problems exactly the same that the same solution will work. The world is constantly changing and problems evolving into different ones due to the higher and hard competition. As we can see what worked 10, 20 or more years ago is not working nowadays anymore.

  • Last but not least, the initial guiding principles lacked one essential element – having the Agile Mindset.

As explained above, we can say that we embrace Agile, that we follow the values and principles but if we don’t have the mindset record in our mind we have a breach to Agile adoption fail with time. This is something that we believe that we need to understand, believe and breed.

Does this mean that Agile is Dead?

Off course not! 🙂

Agile is not a framework, system or operating model, is much more than that!

We understand that the word is imprecise and many people really don’t understand or misuses it. Still, this is why we emphasize the fact that understanding and truly adapting the mindset sits at the bottom of a successful implementation. Moreover, we want to help people understand what Agile really means and testify that it can be the solutions for a smooth and sustainable continuous improvement process.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Last but not least, we’d like to give a special “thank you” to Anett Stoica for the article revision and all her feedback. Thank you!

#agile #agilemanifesto #agilemindset #agileadoption #agileisdead #forbes

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