Looking Inward To Stop An Agile "Decline And Fall"

by Mike Bria on Nov 18, 2009 |

Discussions about agile's "decline and fall" have been a somewhat recurring theme here on the AgileQ, and in the community in general. They center around sentiments that people aren't adopting agile effectively, that they're doing it wrong and screwing it up; and that "agile" is suffering as a result. Kevin Schlabach poses the idea that the agile community itself, by not growing new leaders, has a hand in causing this.

On his popular Agile Commentary blog, Schlabach recalls the way he was introduced to agile:

When I started in the agile community, I worked with several great coaches. These were individuals who had proven experience in Scrum, XP, and other practices. They were "journeymen" with an interest in showing others how to do it. They insured that I learned how to do it correctly. I wasn't on the internet reading and learning about it, I had hands on coaching. Thus, I came up to speed quickly and I had a very positive, thorough, successful experience.

When I think of anyone entering our community, I hope they might learn through this same type of experience. Unfortunately, I believe the opposite is happening more often than not.

He follows with a proposal as to why today's agile newbies aren't getting the same level of good, hands-on help he did years ago:

Many of [the agile innovators and early adopters] have worked in agile for so long that it is easy for them to take these practices for granted. Their Ri (expert) level experiences have allowed them to forget the Shu (beginner) level needs. They've moved on to much bigger problems like "enterprise", "off-shore", and "whole system optimization". These are good problems to solve, but you have to teach several coaches to replace you!

Schlabach goes on to explain how the recent explosion of mainstream agile acceptance and quicker knowledge-uptake potential of newer "community generations" combine to create a disparaging mismatch between the amount of beginners needing help and the amount of practitioners giving it. In essence, when agile was new, the "big names" and their people could handle the demand for assistance with agile adoption, but not any longer.

His ultimate point comes then, targeted to the "practitioner"-level community, as a call-to-arms for people to help fix this by taking time and care to contribute back:

So... if you've been doing agile for over 3 years and you've been successful at it, what are you doing to help the community? Are you bringing your experiences to folks and sharing them? Do you venture into communities where there are people at a different level than you? Do you explain what worked for you, or do you tell them how their approach is wrong? Do you throw the book at people and shake your head, or do you wrap your arm around them and bring them into the circle? Are you too focused on innovating to see who we are leaving behind? Do you focus on everything a person is doing wrong, or do you help them find something to do right? Do they see the benefits after they've tried it, or do they just follow this new set of procedures you've described?
People need guidance on how to start with agile, and we shouldn't allow them to be led astray by the snake charmers and other bottom feeders latching on to our community. It is in our best interest to reach back and pull people up with us as we continue to grow.

What do you think? Are we, the newer generations, not doing enough to contribute back to help the next generation of beginners to get it right?

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Implementing Agile takes more than a few days by Robert Dempsey

I started offering the ADS Skirmish service as an alternative to high cost Agile consulting, and to help with this exact problem - the continued transfer of Agile knowledge and experience from person to person. The problem as I see it is that many companies will hire a consultant for a single day or perhaps even a week. Due to the paradigm shift that Agile typically requires, in order to produce sustained change, more than a week is required. That is not to say though that you can't impart Agile knowledge in a day or 5, however if it's worked in over the course of a few months the mindshift is able to take place, and more knowledge and experience of Agile can be gained.

Re: Implementing Agile takes more than a few days by Mike Bria

Absolutely agree.

I've been consulting for some time now, and without doubt my biggest frustration is the inability to spend enough time with a group to really help them get it. Adopting agile, at its root, as all about "inspect and adapt". Unfortunately, many managers want to hire you only to come in and "hand over the agile instructions" - therefore you ain't there to even enforce inspection/adaptation, let alone provide guidance at those adaptation decision-points, when it matters most.

Re: Implementing Agile takes more than a few days by Jeff Bonevich

Is that part of the problem then, that some so-called agilists are taking such 1-5 day consulting jobs to teach a team how to be agile, not understanding themselves that it takes a more in-depth approach? Or worse, taking the job knowing that limitation and giving agile a black eye? They should have told the manager at the start that they need to hire a full-time agile coach, not a consultant.

Re: Implementing Agile takes more than a few days by Mike Bria

Yes, Jeff, that is part of the problem.

First, I should clarify, that I personally (nor my company) have never accepted a "1-5 day consulting job to teach a team how to be agile". We take serious consideration that our clients are prepared to at least have the "good ole college-shot" at making it work.

The fact of the matter though is that its still common, even with the most understanding and ready clients, that they don't have enough money (and/or executive support) these days to keep someone around for as long as it really takes to make *sure* it's sunk in far enough.

Even so, what is the alternative? A well-meaning group wants to adopt agile. They have $X. I can come in and give them good, albeit to some degree limited, guidance - and whether they take it to good ends is a matter of their own making from there. Or, I deny them and let them take that same $X to be "led astray by the snake charmers and other bottom feeders" begging for their business. Or, no one gets that $X and they go it on their own.

Again, I repeat, I don't mean "take any gig" - our criteria and assessment is stringent.

All this aside...none of this really is the point of Kevin's blog. Sure, we well-meaning/well-doing coaches could probably try harder. But, at least we try at all. Kevin's point, as I see it, is what about all those out there who aren't really contributing at all? Sure, if its not in your blood, that's all good in the hood. But, for many of us, it is in our capacity. We do have the experience, and the knowledge. But, we're either too busy with our own battles, too unaware of how much we really do have to offer, or too [something else] to pitch into the pot and make the world a better place. Well, at least that's me putting words in Kevin's mouth - that's allowed, yeah? ;-)


Re: Implementing Agile takes more than a few days by Dave Rooney

"some so-called agilists are taking such 1-5 day consulting jobs to teach a team how to be agile"

Or teaching a 2-4 day course that leaves the students with a certification and a false sense that they actually know what they're doing?

Dave Rooney
The Agile Consortium

Re: Implementing Agile takes more than a few days by Ådne Brunborg

Having just changed employer, I am now in the situation where I'm working in software development in a company just starting to adopt full-scale Scrum. So, I find myself in the situation where I can use as much time as required to improve the development process :)

Having previously worked as a consultand and also held a few presentation and introductiory courses on Scrum, this is something I'm looking forward to :)

Hopefully I will be able to distill something out of the process to give back to the Agile community

How Agile is agile? by Ingo Boegemann

Watching this thread and the original one is interesting. Lots of agile gurus explaining how important lots of experience and training is.
Once upon a time agile was about removing excessive process and allowing for adaptability ...

Re: How Agile is agile? by Mike Bria

Interesting interpretation Ingo.

Are you implying that "removing excessive process and allowing for adaptability" do not benefit from help, information, and/or guidance of someone experienced?

Re: How Agile is agile? by Ingo Boegemann

I'm sure it does benefit! Anything does benefit from experience and eperienced guidance. Learning never stops ...
But if a lot of guidance, help and experience is required - what does that say about the Process?
The above comments imply that unless you have an experienced, agile Guru who has been in the enlightened state for a while you will get it wrong.
I thought we wanted to make development easier and the process lighter ...
Or do we want to sell training and mentoring? In this case we better continue to add more process, complexity and variety to keep those contracts not too short.

Re: How Agile is agile? by Dody Gunawinata

In the beginning, Agile was a movement. Now it is an industry. It was like the crazed XML as a product "feature" in late 1990's.

Earlier Agile movement is more about involving people to improve their software development practices and nowadays it becomes some sort of stick to beat other people.

Re: How Agile is agile? by Mike Bria

As far as it becoming an "industry", I'm not sure if I agree or not. I do know though, either way, it still means what it did "in the beginning" (of course with some changes/improvements learned over the years).

Hey though, I fear that this commentary, while not bad commentary, has really diverged from the message Kevin is positing. (And, yes, I'm may be as much as fault for that as anybody).

Agile (big A, little a, whatever) has become what it has...but how do we keep it being what it really is? What it was "in the beginning"? The best way is for us to do less complaining about how agile isn't what we wished it was, and more helping people understand what it really is.

Re: How Agile is agile? by Ingo Boegemann

So, lets tease this a bit further:
What is Agile then? A movement involving people to improve software development practice as Dody put it, or whatever the latest agile methodology by one of the leading agile thinkers has become?
BTW. If one is an agile trainer/mentor and moves from company to company - how involved is one in the real issues of the software development process? How far is theory replacing practice?

Re: How Agile is agile? by Mark Levison

Ingo - I frame it this way (and I'm a consultant). Implementing the basics of Agile at the one team level is easy enough. Read a few books, take some good training and your good to go. The hard stuff: dealing with the organizational impediments, scaling and getting going quickly. Clients often bring me in because they appreciate I can help get them going faster. So a good coach/consultant shouldn't say s/he is always required, only that they can help speed the transition and overcome the bigger impediments.

In my mind the process (smaller, faster, lighter) is independent of how you handle the transition.

Mark Levison
The Agile Consortium

Re: How Agile is agile? by Ingo Boegemann

Thanks Mark
I see the skill here as being good in understanding what issues/persons will block the transition and to find the correct means to overcome this - I can accept that and see here real value. I think an outsider is quite likely to have the distance to see more and the neutrality to change more than any inside resource could.
Would you agree in your case that these person/organisational skills are more important than the actual agile skills?

Re: How Agile is agile? by Mark Levison

Ingo - Agile Skills are almost table stakes, you need to have to do the job. The hard work is in understanding the people and the organisation. In addition you do need a good menu of Agile tools to know what might work as a solution. So I would say equal parts of both.

Re: How Agile is agile? by Mike Bria

Would you agree in your case that these personal/organizational skills are more important than the actual agile skills?

I would. In everyone's case.

Truth is, are "personal/organization skills" not already imbedded as part of "agile skills"?

Re: How Agile is agile?span mlb_binding_key= by Jeff Anderson

when I was 1st starting on agile I used a mixture of passion, common sense, and reaching out to people on user forums. I didn't necessarily need a whole lot of personal handholding and training. that being said, I certainly took my time learning everything I know now, and in retrospect I probably could've come to some of my conclusions a lot quicker. So yes consultants and external training can be helpful, but not required, was really required ispassion and commitment.

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