The Inflation of Agile

or, Why I am more and more reluctant to call myself an Agile Coach

https://app.hedgeye.com/insights/36890-cartoon-of-the-day-what-inflation?

I absolutely love the simplicity of Agilemanifesto.org, its values and principles, especially when it comes to software development. With that being said, Agile is NOT a way of working. It is a way of looking at things, a set of values and principles that can be adjusted to or incorporated in the values and principles you want for your company.

Scrum is a framework, a guide for teams to organise their collaboration. I’m attracted to it because of the two explicit feedback loops both on the product and on the process. It helps teams to structure their work and gives a mandated trias politica of the what, why and how. I’m not a Scrum fanatic by the way. It is an instrument you can use if and when it is useful but should be dropped (or parts of it) when it doesn’t help.

Although Scrum = Agile, Agile != Scrum

Scrum is not the only way to organise your team(s) and with that your company, with the agile principles in mind. Furthermore, some of the values and principles are predominantly directed towards software development and it sometimes is hard to translate them to other parts of your business (marketing, procurement, that kind of thing). Agile provides a mindset of flexibility, of making the right and timely feedback loops are in place with the customer in mind.

Good you might say, so what’s wrong with Agile and the most used Agile way of working, Scrum? 

Actually nothing.

But…

Agile/Scrum is not…

  • A recipe, a silver bullet or a step by step playbook to solve all your problems. Actually, living by these values and principles usually makes all the problems you had before you adopted Agile more explicit and more painful!
  • An excuse to fuck everything up in the name of experimentation
  • An excuse for lack of accountability
  • A trend that should be followed blindly. Think!
  • A lack of deadlines
  • Something you can buy…

Inflation

And with the last point, my main problem arises. The eco-system of companies, trainings, frameworks, scaling frameworks, coaches, certificates etc. has gone way out of hand. 

A certificate is not a license to operate. Acing an exam doesn’t mean you know what you are doing. Too many rules (especially in scaling frameworks such as SAFe) kills a lot of the flexibility and agile values. I always get the shivers when somebody calls him or herself “Agilist”. Agile is nor a religion, although one could think that between frameworks a religious war is at hand, at least a war against waterfall. Waterfall is great!, at least in some contexts.

In my mind, the Agile eco-system is subject to a growing inflation. Having over 300K certified scrum masters doesn’t make the world better. Being a certified scrum master doesn’t make you a coach, let alone a good one. There are too many (training)companies, frameworks and Agilists around and its harder and harder to find people who actually know what they are doing. Calling myself an Agile Coach puts me in that eco-system and I’m not sure I want that anymore…

So, what’s the alternative?

I’m not sure yet. I do think there’s value in combining a flexible mindset with an understanding of several ways of working, to optimise collaboration, processes and organisations in order to make work better, have happier people and customers and to actually make some money. You need to combine a start-up, scale-up mentality with the understanding of some of the applicable rules of engagement from the “old” world. And brave leadership!