Agile’s Shifting Baseline Syndrome

I got acquainted with the term Shifting Baseline Syndrome just last week. I think it pretty much sums up what’s happening with Agile. Let me explain.

Shifting Baseline Syndrome

Read more here, but the short definition of Shifting Baseline is that the change of a system is measured against previous baselines, which themselves have been changed over time from an even earlier state of that system. Of course that can be both positive and negative, as the baselines can go “up” or “down”.

The Shifting Baseline Syndrome comes from Daniel Pauly and was used to explain how scientist fail to identify the correct baseline for populations (in this case fish). Every new generation of scientists is brought up with a new baseline that’s normal to them but is actually lower than the one before, resulting in ever diminishing populations.

Agile’s Shifting Baseline Syndrome

In the case of Agile, I think the baseline is going down. And it’s going down pretty fast. For me the Agile Manifesto with clear values and principles is still the baseline for an Agile mindset. It’s simple to understand and in practice hard to implement, but that should not influence the baseline as is.

What I do recognise around me is that when implementing an agile mindset in organisations, corners are cut, the wine is watered down, etc. even with the argument tof being Agile about Agile.

Furthermore, with every new Agile Coach trained by a new generation of trainers and coaches Agile seems diluted. When the first trainer teaches 99% Agile instead of 100% and the next after does 99% again (99% of 99%), you can do the math, right? And we have lot of teachers and coaches these days. Just to give an example of one of the most used Agile ways of working, Scrum. has over 360K PSM I certificates sold, and almost 100K PSPO I certificates*.

Be honest

I’m not saying that the math above holds true for everyone, but be honest to yourself. If you look around in your organisation where people say they are Agile, is that actually the case, looking at the Agile Manifesto?

And dear trainers and coaches, if you are perfectly honest, where do you cut corners or water down the Agile wine when teaching or coaching the values and principles?

And if you say “That’s not me!”, ~90% of drivers think they are better than average

I do to.

What would it take to get back to the first baseline?

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