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Fowler: "Agile Imposition is a Very Red Flag"

Martin Fowler, one of the original creators of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, reflected last week on reports of agile process being imposed on teams from the outside.  He states his reaction succinctly: "Imposing a process on a team is completely opposed to the principles of agile software, and has been since its inception."

Fowler goes on to look in detail at the principles underlying Agile culture, including its emphasis on "motivated individuals" and "self-organizing teams."  His conclusion:
An important consequence of these values and principles is that a team should choose its own process - one that suits the people and context in which they work.
Fowler insists that imposing a process on a team is "a very red flag," but warns that from the outside it may not be possible to tell exactly what's going on - he says, "There are situations that may look similar from the outside, but aren't really the same." For example, he notes that the temporary imposition of a set of practices for the purpose of learning should not be assumed to indicate permanent imposition of those practices.  Fowler states, "it's very difficult to tailor a process until you've used it for a while."  He wrote about this in an earlier article on Extreme Programming - in which he identifies three levels of process maturity, where his "Level 1" corresponds to Alistair Cockburn's "Shu" stage (a concept drawn from the martial art, Aikido, and one which Fowler also uses). In this stage, particularly for XP,  it's widely agreed that teams need to use the practices "as is" for a while, to understand the basic patterns before customizing them to suit their own situation.

So, it may take a little investigation before determining whether process is being imposed, but the fundamental point remains - imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods.

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