I Don’t Care About “Agile”

All ideas are great, until they are confronted with reality.

The concept of Management By Objectives by Peter F. Drucker was great, except for the fact that it didn’t take into account that managers could easily abuse it to enrich themselves with big bonuses.

The idea of Shareholder Value, supported by Nobel-prize winner Milton Friedman, was great in theory and perfect for rational minds, as long as we ignored the fact that economic decisions are almost never rational.

The Balanced Scorecard by Kaplan and Norton is a very good tool for managers. But most managers think they’re driving their organization like a machine, instead of riding it as if it’s a horse, and digital dashboards don’t sit well on horses.

The list of failed management ideas goes on an on…

Now we are in the age of Agile Management, Lean Development, and Complexity Thinking, with Scrum, Kanban, and Cynefin trying to ride the waves. And the first signals of disillusion have already been heard. I hear, “It’s not working here”, “People don’t want to change” and “These are fads like all the others”.

And yes… they may be right.

If you don’t change the culture of your organization to one of learning instead of controlling, if you don’t see your business as a community instead of a computer, and if you don’t focus on improving through people rather than processes, you will get exactly that. The ideas won’t work, people won’t change, and it’s all just a fad.

No great idea survives contact with the ignorant.

Of course, words like Agile and Lean were conceived to try and change the mindsets of managers and the cultures of businesses. But if these words don’t succeed, we shouldn’t mourn their defeat. The Agile and Lean brands may be destined to end up on the same pile of discarded words as all the others. Not because the ideas weren’t any good. But because they couldn’t cope with the real world.

I don’t care.

My goal is not to define, use, and protect the word Agile.

My goal is to be happy while learning new things and creating value in a network with other people. I will use any cool words that can help me with this. And right now, I’m an optimist. For me, Agile is still an awesome brand.

Until it isn’t.


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  • http://profile.typepad.com/emergentmeccano Emergentmeccano

    Sharing is caring, and if we don’t not care it all falls apart in society, at work or in your private life.
    Agree that management fads comes and goes, but the social constructs remains.
    The reason to why leaders and managers fail to comprehend or act in a decent manner relate to human constraints, that I think Dan Ariely are one of the best to pin point. As with his latest book the Honest Truth about dishonesty.(http://danariely.com/)
    When it comes to the creation of learning environments for the future, I think John Seely Brown’s latest book is a book read. (http://www.johnseelybrown.com/)
    Good points made in the post above / Fredric

  • http://www.thelearningcrucible.co.uk Vincent Driscoll

    Hi Jurgen. Excellent post. Reality’s unpredictable, ever-changing complexity will always resist our attempts to bottle and conceptualise it. And we can get a little attached to our dearly held beliefs forgetting that they can only be at best simple representations of the world, like a matchstick drawing of a man. Better instead to work, as you say, through and with people, to seek constantly to understand and to improve the quality of our feedback loops. Wiser to work on the assumption we don’t know everything and that we’re probably operating with faulty mental models. Yours, Vincent

  • Sune lomholt

    Great post. One thing you do not mention is the commercialization of agile and lean. This often result in companies wanting to be agile or lean. Then they forget the underlying reason and objective namely to improve the way we work. So I don’t care if you are agile or lean as long as you are able to improve. However user cleverly agile and lean provides great tools for exposing improvement opportunities and take action.
    So I think your post is an excellent argument a long the same line.

  • Paul Dolman-Darrall

    I agree with almost everything in this post, except that I question whether Agile is still an awesome brand.

  • Radu Davidescu

    Agile was and is awesome as an initiative. As a brand seems pretty poor as didn’t manage to convince the big market of corporate world and it’s divided and tear-apart by their very own creators and supporters.

  • http://www.self-sustainability.ch john

    A psychologist friend of mine once told me he did not want to work with business people because many are neurotic.
    We are not robots. We are all different with different motivations. Many business leader’s motivations are often questionable and we need to accept this and know the playing field. This does not mean it can not be affected or changed but these people who are neurotic will fight to preserve their status quo. It is hard path we are on but we must not give up and lose hope. There are many in te Stoos group who want to particpate and we need to support each other

  • http://www.niufish.com WangYu

    How can I sign my name on this post?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/galleman Glen B. Alleman

    You may want to read “Antecedents and Consequences of Firms’ Process Innovation Capability,” IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management, pp 519-529 November 2012, Vol 59, Num 4, to see how firms develop efficiency and effectiveness gains for long term advantage. This may provide insight into the myths found in the populist literature about how successful companies actually work and avoid altogether the suggestions you have gathered above.

  • Gian

    I work with a manager that wants us to put tasks in Gantt charts and he calculates statistics like hourly costs of every person involved in the projects, wasted time related to the estimates and so on. He lets people talks in meetings. More than that there’s nothing else. He has no interest nor, probably, knowledge of what software development is. Nothing more than the most basic and generic ideas.
    I think that inserting forcibly people that have not real involvement in the “real” work and that want to establish their rules read in some books or school is just waiting for people to leave.
    When you add that those managers have tight budgets and/or production bonuses is likely that things will go even worse.
    If you want developers to deliver products you need to work also in morale, resources, economic, exchange terms. Just setting some rules and waiting for results it’s quite dumb.

  • http://www.fancircuit.com/ social media monitoring

    I’m sorry if I offended people with the comment about older people going to agile events. I’m 49 years old, and still programming actively, as are many of our senior people. I”m not trying to make a value judgement about what people are doing in any age group. I think it’s interesting that demographically, older people are more involved with “agile”. It changes the whole perception of the effort.

  • http://howtodoinjava.com/2012/10/29/abstract-factory-pattern-in-java/ Lokesh

    In my company, they have created a new version. They call it ULTRA agile. It means “You have to do this today only, then you can leave to home”.

  • Jack Parsons

    Driving a machine/riding a horse: brilliant!
    You will find that older people tend to want better time management so we can have a personal life. If Agile gives this, we will use Agile.

  • http://www.b-mc2.com Jean-Jacques Dubray

    IMHO, agile didn’t achieve its goals (even though its principles are great and timeless) because agile didn’t attempt to alter the way we communicate. It focused only on the “why” and “what” we communicate.
    I particularly like this paragraph: “If you don’t change the culture of your organization to one of learning instead of controlling, if you don’t see your business as a community instead of a computer, and if you don’t focus on improving through people rather than processes, you will get exactly that. The ideas won’t work, people won’t change, and it’s all just a fad.”
    I happen to believe that this is not a “culture” problem, this can only be achieved by changing “how” we communicate. Culture is a byproduct of how we communicate, patterns if you will, not the other way around.

  • http://agilarium.blogspot.com Fabrice Aimetti

    Thank you Jurgen, it’s a great lesson! I’ve translated your post into french :
    Peu m’importe le mot Agile

  • http://profile.typepad.com/geertbossuyt Geertbossuyt

    Hi Jurgen,
    The word ‘Agile’ is not worth protecting.
    On the other side, I believe you’re missing an important point here;
    Agile is different; it’s not a complex management theory like the balanced scorecard, shareholder value or management by objectives. Agile is simple, easy to understand and for everyone.
    Before 2001, a lot of people were already working ‘Agile’ for years. They just did things like that because, to them, it’s the only sensible way of doing things. Then in 2001 all of a sudden thousands of people recognized their own ideas in the Agile Manifesto.
    It’s natural behaviour for a huge amount of super intelligent, super motivated knowledge workers. Look around you! Talk to developers & testers instead of managers, consultants and coaches. Many of these guys -who do the actual work- truly don’t care about the word ‘Agile’, but they have no choice but acting ‘Agile’ because it’s their natural behaviour.
    It’s just that behaviour, that mindset, which will last because this generation has no choice; it’s in their genes.
    ‘Agile’ as a management theory might be a fad, as you say; But hey,… it never was a management theory after all so who cares.
    ‘Agile’ as a brand might not survive. All those making a lot of money while they take a ride on the success of this brand, will find a new cool word to make their marketing stick. So who cares?
    But ‘Agile’ as a concept will survive in the behaviour and culture of millions of knowledge workers all over the world.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p017d410e9221970c Cowan Anderson

    But Agile Marketing is helping Digital Marketing for social Media Purposes, which have drive sales for many companies in recently and in past.

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