2 December 2019
By: Tomas Malmsten

Why doesn't Agile work

I've seen organisations try to roll out Agile in many different variation over the years. Yet I don't see many being successful. Some come to the conclusion that Agile doesn't work. Others seems to find the new practices that came with it works well enough so they continue but they don't reap any of the promised rewards.

Many have written and talked about this before me. But I'm going to add my tuppence worth. Perhaps it will help someone to a better understanding of what it is that doesn't work, cause it's not Agile that's not working.

So far most organisations I've work with who have attempted to become Agile and not succeeded have tried Scrum. They've taken the practices from the Scum process and applied them, often according to the book, to the organisations way of working. Sometimes they've even gotten consultants in to help them practice this as it should be done, with training and all.

The organisation where I currently work are attempting SAFe (Shitty Agile For enterprises). SAFe also have a bunch of practices that promise that as long as you follow them you should increase your speed of delivery and everyone will be happy (or at least happier).

And this is where the root cause of the problem lies. Practices, no matter which practices, does not change an organisation. Changing your practices will just make you do the same old thing in a new way. The result will at best be the same as it was before. At worst the organisation will find that things got more chaotic. Delivery time increases and costs increases. Ending in disaster.

The reason for this, I think, is that to reap the benefits that Agile promises it is not your practices you need to change. At least not to start with. This is not the reason why your organisation is inefficient and/or ineffective in the first place. What needs to change are the values the organisation lives, the vision they actually work towards and the principles they adhere to. If the values and vision in an organisation are aligned with the results the organisation strive to achieve it will succeed, no matter the practices. Or rather, with the practices such values and vision creates.

I quite like the way Kent Beck explains this in his book Extreme Programming Explained - Embrace Change (I.E. the second edition (I've not read the first one)). He lays the foundation by defining four core values: Communication, Feedback, Simplicity and Courage. If you live these values when making software you are, by definition, doing XP. If you on the other hand adopt the practices, and perhaps try to adhere to some of the principles but do not live the values you don't do XP. It's really that simple.

But this can quickly become problematic in organisations. Because many organisations do not live said values. In fact, most organisation I've work in don't even live up to the values they say the live up to. Their value statement is just that nice piece of paper they've got on the wall which make new employees feel good. Until they've been ingrained into the organisation enough that they don't even realise that this is the case.

The same thing is also true for for many organisations professed vision. It is not something they actually work towards. It is not a vision that everyone in the organisation share. The result is that the vision is useless.

In my previous blog post I talked about self-deception. And this is exactly what this is. When an organisation can't see what values they actually live by they will never be able to become an Agile organisation. No matter which practices they adopt. When their values are in conflict with the values they need to live by to be Agile.

And as long as an organisation don't have a shared vision it will continuously struggle to go anywhere. They will struggle especially much with change since the people in the organisation do not go in the same direction.

Tags: Ponderings Agile