How Agile lost its soul

Summary
This article isn’t going to be about the ideal team size or the problems with Agile at scale, and there are many of them. The issue is more profound. It's about how Agile’s triumph over Waterfall was indeed a pyrrhic victory, and in wanting to replace Waterfall, it ended up becoming what it was fighting.

Reading time: 4 minutes

This article isn’t going to be about the ideal team size or the problems with Agile at scale, and there are many of them. The issue is more profound. It's about how Agile’s triumph over Waterfall was indeed a pyrrhic victory, and in wanting to replace Waterfall, it ended up becoming what it was fighting.

The article will further explore how we got here and what we believe can be done.

The Agile promise

We live and breathe Agile so much these days that it’s hard to fathom that the Agile we love and promote has very little to do with what Agile was meant to be. If we go all the way back to the Agile manifesto, there is no discussion of processes, ceremonies, metrics, team size, or the like. Instead, the Agile manifesto dares us to be revolutionary and introduces a paradigm shift through a groundbreaking mindset.

This mindset is exactly what made it successful and appealing over Waterfall. Like every millennial, I’ve done my fair share of Waterfall projects. And truly, Waterfall is not a bad way of delivering projects, as long as they are predictable, linear, and simple. However, projects are usually the exact opposite – they are complex by nature. They rely on intricate dependencies, human behaviour, and working with technology. This context demands learning, inspection, and adaptability for success. Thus, Agile becomes the common sense approach.

Death by a thousand cuts

I believe that the struggle of Agile today is due to its fame. When organizations tried to capitalize on the buzz of Agile, they often looked for the easy way out. In true Waterfall fashion, they put together a plan with clear milestones and defined tasks: pick an Agile framework – check, provide certifications for the team – check, bring in coaches to help teams adopt Agile – check. And in doing so, it lost its very soul. It’s no surprise that terms like “zombie scrum” keep popping up year after year. Why are there so many books on the best framework and the best KPI? Everyone is looking for a magic pill that doesn’t exist.

The problem here is that a mindset cannot be implemented by a plan, no matter how good it is. Heck, the Agile manifesto itself talks about responding to change over following a plan!

So, let’s get to the essence of Agile and to why organizations need it.

More relevant than ever

If the pandemic revealed anything to us, it’s that Agile is exactly what organizations need today. Organizations need to be able to navigate complex and changing environments and quickly learn and adapt to maintain and grow their business.

To better understand the ethos of Agile, let’s look at the 12 Agile principles. The focus of these principles is around creating an environment that enables agility:

  • By releasing early and frequently, you can quickly adapt based on customer feedback and changing markets trends
  • The focus on technical excellence ensures that your products are built with quality, tech debt is managed, and the product can easily evolve, scale, or integrate with other applications
  • A continuous loop of inspecting and adapting, learning and improving over time
  • Upskilling teams, trusting them to do the right thing and promoting team self-organization, helping your teams solve problems as they arise and promoting innovation – it also reduces decision bottlenecks and improves speed to market
  • Breaking down silos of your organization by having technology and business work hand-in-hand every day to solve issues together
  • The need for sustainable development, promoting the wellness of your teams, ensuring that they are at their best every day

Enabling Agile culture

At Rangle, we’ve seen two successful approaches to enabling Agile culture, each with its benefits and challenges.

The first way is to tackle agility through organizational capabilities. In other terms, if you want to be able to deliver frequently, you need the infrastructure that enables it. Focusing on DevOps, building a design system, and enabling headless architecture to create solid paths to improve the enterprise’s capabilities. This should be further augmented by upskilling talent to maintain and evolve capabilities.

The second way to tackle agility is through the product and delivery lens. This approach focuses more on the culture of the enterprise by:

  • Creating an environment that promotes self-organization and sustainable delivery
  • Shifting the mindset to a long-term focus on quality and technical excellence with the flexibility and open-mindedness to pivot at a short notice to meet changing circumstances
  • Facilitate collaboration between different business units and if possible, with the end users to co-create products that delight customers
  • Champion a learning culture of continuous improvement, asking why, and daring to think outside the box and innovate
    A Dojo approach yields solid long-term results in transforming the culture of an enterprise.

How to proceed

If you're not sure which approach is the best fit for your organization, talk to us! Rangle’s partnership model is all about understanding your reality and meeting you where you are with an Agile mindset over a rigid, one-size-fits-all plan. Reach out to us for a conversation and assessment of your unique digital context. We're happy to support you in an advisory or delivery capacity.

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