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Opinion: Agile Forgets the Human Factor

Kevin Brady, self-declared Agile critic, has a problem with Agile (particularly Scrum, it seems):  he feels that while they look great on paper. they fail to work in reality because they forget the human factor.
Any paradigm, which has human interaction at its heart, will fail if human psychology is not understood and taken into account. The key aspects of human nature which IT development /project management methods have to take into account are no different to those at the heart of most modern economic theories:

People will always put their own interests ahead of the interests of the group.
People are self-interested
Commercial production decisions are based on rational expectations.
Karl Popper’s “First law of collective action”. You can never get more than 5 people to agree on anything.
Brady says that these methodologies "can from experience in the field turn ... already sickly IT departments into meltdown", and cites as examples the views of 3 people working in self-proclaimed Agile teams, including
  • The Project Managers / ScrumMasters turned themselves into Project Administrators.
  • The project teams had in almost all cases been taken over by strong personalities leading to mini dictatorships.
  • Knowledge Monopolies.
  • Resource Management had vanished.
  • Having had a taste of freedom the dictators were a hateful and aggressive bunch when asked about their managers / ScrumMasters.
  • Most of the talented young development staff were leaving.
  • Each of these organisations had differing development approaches and tools from project to project.
  • Clients fed up with never-ending, continuous involvement in IT projects.
In the conversation thread that follows the blog entry, Derek Gilmore picks up on the "already sickly IT department" aspect, adding:
SCRUM is not a magic bullet. It doesn’t fix dysfunctional toxic work environments. If you don’t have Software requirements in the form or clear use cases(user scenarios), configuration management, daily builds, database change management or unit testing your projects will be late and over budget.

To use Agile Development methodologies require a strong SCRUM Master with people skills to match. Putting in a chief Architect with poor people skills is a recipe for disaster.

Agile blogger Dave Nicolette takes up the gauntlet, noting that "[a number of] bullet points in your list frankly sound as if the people mis-applied agile practices. In particular, the project managers who behaved as you describe really didn’t 'get it.' "

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Community comments

  • My Repsonse to the Kevin Brady's Blog...

    by Brad Murphy,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    For those who are interested in a Valtech Management reaction to Kevin Brady's blog, see my remarks at Kevin's site.

    Here are the summarizing remarks I posted to Kevin's Blog:

    Lastly, I will respectfully suggest that your assertion that Agile is the ?cause? of the melt-down is not entirely fair. I actually agree with your point about the human factors influence, however I would argue that in the specific examples you share, that Agile is simply revealing and accelerating the very conditions that already exist. For me the more appropriate criticism / warning for those adopting Agile/Scrum is the core risk related to organizational ?health?.

    Those who promote Agile/Scrum (Valtech included) have an obligation to recognize and promote the cultural risks that MUST be addressed, otherwise the outcomes you?ve highlighted are quite possible, if not probable. To suggest however that this is ?proof? of why Agile wont work isn?t terribly constructive or helpful.

    Brad Murphy
    SVP/Global Client Partner
    Gen. Mgr. - Global Agile Outsourcing / Transformation Group

  • Brady is missing the point

    by Victor Szalvay,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    The point of Scrum is to surface exactly the type of things Brady identifies here. Scrum proponents, myself included, teach that Scrum will surface these problems clearly and blatantly, to such a degree that organizations transitioning to Scrum will feel a lot of pain at first.

    If the organization doesn't take quick action to resolve its problems then the fallout will be as described. That is not the fault of Scrum/Agile, that is simply the organization not answering a clearly surfaced impediment (e.g., the removal of excessively dominant team members who cannot play nice on a team).

    These problems are there before Scrum arrives, Scrum just surfaces them and forces the organization to deal with them quickly. Does the author suggest the organization simply go back to what it was doing before and continue along with heads firmly inserted in sand?

    -- Victor Szalvay
    Danube Technologies, Inc.

  • Re: Brady is missing the point

    by Paul Oldfield,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Agreed, Scrum is there to surface these problems. Why is Kevin calling himself a consultant if he is observing these surfaced problems but not fixing them? Does he really advocate "See no Evil"?

  • Why bash agile specifically?

    by Winfried Scheulderman,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Kevin might just as well replace "agile methodology" with any other methodology used in the IT industry. By aiming specifically at the agile methodology he misses an important point: without people having the right attitude and skills any methodology is doomed to fail. That's not a unique quality of agile development. A lot of managers however believe that if a non-functioning team using methodology A would just switch to methodology B they're fine and their job's done. Well, that doesn't hold in the universe I live in. But it saves these managers from getting a headache - trying to motivate your people, train them and build an effective team isn't an easy task. You'll be sweating,buddy!

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