Tue 16 Nov 2010
Agile is about adaptive, creative approach to complex work yet amazingly average agilists are the most dogmatic people I know. If you read their blogs and follow their tweets you will soon see dogmas being proclaimed and anathemas being cast on heretics who don’t agree.
The irony is that those dogmas can be pretty obvious observations, just repackaged to look like great discoveries. A good example I’ve seen on Twitter recently: “If you haven’t met you are not a team”. Well, that’s pretty obvious that it is much harder for team cohesion to occur when people don’t meet – it has been known for years that colocated teams are more productive than dispersed teams. However, to say that such a team can’t be a team and can’t do anything meaningful is turning an insight into a dogma.
Part of dogmatism is also treating agile – a simple set of principles plus a couple of practices and methods that evolved from them – as the all-encompassing solution to problems not only in software development, not only in IT, but everywhere. While this kind of zealotry helps some to keep the momentum for me it is a fry cry from healthy pragmatism that I think is at the core of all good management. In the long run it doesn’t help spread agile (at least outside of the US where aggressive selling of everything, including ideas, based on exaggeration is the culturally accepted norm).
Kanban, Scrum, XP – everyone follows their own method, and basically says others are useless or at least not as good. It is like if we had separate sects, each following its guru or gurus – and shunning others. Again, this is in the face of core principles of agile.
While there is lots of value in well-defined methods like Scrum and healthy criticism and debate are most welcome a bit of respect for other approaches would definitely help. Especially so when someone says something works for them. It is common sense (if it works don’t fix it) – but isn’t “the art of the possible” one of core agile principles?
3. Domination by consultants
Most if not all agilists that write, teach and coach do only this and have not run a software project (or a business) hands on for quite a while. This is all natural, especially given how much money was there in it for those who were in the movement early enough. But it has some bad side effects – dogmatism and sectarianism are amongst them.
Apart from that I firmly believe that if you just preach but don’t do you gradually loose your edge and become one of the “experts” – a true consultant, namely someone who can only talk the (pricey) talk but (no longer) walk the walk. It is interesting how pragmatic practitioners usually are and how creative they get when solving problems they encounter in their teams/projects – not necessarily following everything “gurus” say to the letter.
That’s why conferences and other places (sites, publications) where practitioners talk about their experiences, problems and solutions they devised to overcome them are crucially important for agile’s future. However, most are dominated by consultants.
Dogmatism, sectarianism and consultant domination are hurting agile, frequently reducing it to a sales message. How does it make the agile community look like? Does it help spread those methods, change the way in which projects are run etc? Is it really convincing for decision makers? Is it even a movement one wants to be a part of? Sad but important questions “thought leaders” of agile should ask themselves.