How did we get here?

My first real experience with Agile came when I joined a big corporate on an incredibly fractured team. 23 people from 12 consulting firms, protecting their SLAs at all costs… not quite the recipe for collaboration. The project was already in its 3rd year of “failure” and the heat was on! 

And then an Agile Coach joined our team. I was a very small cog in a very big machine, and yet I had a front row seat in watching how this team transformed. We started having authentic conversations, learning together, taking risks and responsibility and delivering! How I would see teams, projects and systems was forever changed – now I knew what was possible. This was AGILE! 

I’ve had many incredible years working in various Agile-related roles since then. I’m so grateful for how Agile has shifted the conversations around work and people. However, this year I’ve decided to walk away from Agile for a while…

It feels like in so many spaces the conversation has turned from the values we held to a semi-fundamentalist pursuit of practices, from the problems to solve to the ideals to achieve. Maybe some of these experiences sound familiar:

  • The other day I saw a fight on Twitter about whether it’s ok for standups to be longer than 15 minutes. [stares blankly at screen].
  • I’ve seen people personally attacked for views they hold around Agile topics. [admits to skipping a retro and cringes at the backlash if Twitter knew].
  • C-suite often seem to have very strange misconceptions about what we’re aiming for in their organisations. [holds her breath at the start of yet another estimations conversation]
  • I sometimes (dare I say often) meet Agile Coaches whose work and outlook make me not want to associate with the word Agile. [wonders what’s happening in the industry].

Many developers are crying out against Agile and I wonder how many times we can blame that on poor coaching or misinformed leadership. I’d like to emphasise here that I still believe there is so much goodness in Agile. I just find myself wondering what else is going on? When did we become this?

Now this sentence might be even more controversial but here goes… I hope we’re not doing to Agile what many institutions have done to spirituality, putting so much ritual, law and even financial incentive around it that we forget why we came to it in the first place.

So why did you first come to Agile? Maybe every once in a while we can put Agile down for a bit and just pursue those things… I hope so, that’s what I’m off to do.

8 responses to “How did we get here?”

  1. wow Kirsten, I too have been wondering about similar concerns, with the inclusion of the Lean-Agile certification value stream or $$$ maker. I also have been thinking of leaving the corporate world and focusing on my smaller clients, couples, families and small businesses, looking for relationship coaching. much more rewarding, less to no travel, and always an end in sight!

  2. Interesting , insightful and thoughtful article.

  3. i resonate with the pains you have described in this article. I also find that agility is often misunderstood and even misused and way too often we focus on the results we expect rather than focus on the journey and experience itself.
    On the other hand, this makes me enthusiastic about agility, as it proves that its more than a sort of project management framework, or a set of practices. Its a way of being and thinking and interacting with the world. Its close to philosophy and even metaphysics, and these kinds of things are not easy to grasp.

    Taking this into consideration, it’s no wonder adopting and learning agility has so many pitfalls. But its up to us to take it to the next level, and although we certainly won’t reach the states described as optimal, its certainly self-fulfilling to go on this path.

    I hope you won’t give up and continue, as i’m confident that once you onboard on this path, you can’t go back, no matter what role you will be fulfilling.

    Good luck with your future endeavours, Kirsten 🙂

    1. Thank you Adrian! 🙂

  4. Having a growth mindset requires us to constantly re-evaluate what we’re doing and why with the risk/opportunity that the answers might require a brave change. A friend once said to me “don’t confuse a passion with a habit” and I think that applies in this context; it is ok for our passions to change as we grow…and maybe one day we come back to them when the time is right with a newfound respect or interest. Or maybe we don’t; that is all part of the adventure!

  5. I have personally never been a big fan of Agile. I feel like it is faddish and buzzword laden, and not really that useful. I also feel like these arguments about some of these rituals are not a new thing, but have been around since near the beginning of Agile.

    It is quite possible that many of the bad experiences I have had with Agile were from leaders who read a blog post about it and decided to do it, without enough training. I recall a team where we had daily standups, and the team was growing quickly. At some point we had 15-20 people doing a 30 minute standup, each giving a 1 to 2 minute update. For the most part, no one was really blocking any of the other developers on the team. We were all just giving a status update to the manager. It would have been much more efficient to do asynchronously. My current team does daily asynchronous standups via a Slack bot, and that works really well. Having some daily information flow between team members is really great, to make sure that you are not working on something that has already been done or fixed, or to see if your work is blocking someone else on the team. In essence, I hate status meetings. I think meetings should be reserved for discussion, which is something that I think frequently works better synchronously than asynchronously.

    1. Thanks Rob, and yeah I agree with you on status meetings – it feels to me like if a one way transmission of information is the primary objective then there are more efficient and effective methods. I’ve seen dailies be quite nice for some teams who are more social and like to have a small moment to chat – but that it really is all about the context and problem at hand for me, rather than blanket ideals.

  6. Hi Kirsten
    We have a problem as there are people that call themselves “agile” but they don’t live the values. If we live the values then we can disagree but in a way that leads us all to grow. Agile consulting has become more about making money at the expense of other people than embracing agility as a culture and as a profession.
    To use your spiritual example there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing that have entered the fold. They are becoming easier and easier to spot as they engage in unhelpful and toxic rhetoric about nonsense online.
    I still thoroughly love agile and when done right what it can do.
    If the in fighting and nonsense does not stop, soon there will not be a profession left.

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