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An ode to Agile

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  1. Does your team spend a disproportionate amount of time debating processes like sprint points or tasks rolling over?
  2. Are details consistently missed within tasks?
  3. Are team members working on disparate projects with a dubious unifying theme?
  4. Does it feel like your team is LARPing through Scrum activities (like sprint planning, backlog grooming, etc)?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, you’re probably not being agile. You’re acting Agile™©.

What’s interesting is that the Agile Manifesto captures an ideal that most teams would nod their head in agreement with:

We are uncovering better ways of developing
software by doing it and helping others do it.
Through this work we have come to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.

I think the problem is that some have taken the Agile Manifesto and turned it into dogma. Principles have turned into rules not to be broken. Processes have turned into religious rituals.

Agile is a mindset, not a process

What’s the fix? We should understand that Agile is a way of thinking about software development, not a set of rules to follow. It’s a way of thinking about how to deliver value to customers, not a set of rituals to perform. It’s a way of thinking about how to work together, not a set of tools to use.

In order to shift from acting Agile™© to being truly agile, you need to focus on cultivating an agile mindset within your team. Here are a few ways to make that shift:

Embrace flexibility and adaptability

One of the core tenets of agile is the ability to respond to change. Encourage your team to embrace flexibility and adaptability. This means being open to changing plans, priorities, some ambiguity, and even processes when needed, to deliver the best possible value to customers.

Foster open communication and collaboration

Another cornerstone of agile is the emphasis on individuals and interactions. Cultivate a culture of open communication and collaboration, where team members feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns, and challenges. Encourage regular feedback and ensure everyone feels heard and valued. One of my favorite aphorisms from Jeff Weiner, former CEO of LinkedIn, is “trust equals consistency over time.” Build trust through consistent open communication and collaboration.

Focus on delivering value

Always keep the end goal in mind: delivering value to customers. Prioritize tasks and projects that have a clear impact on customer satisfaction and business outcomes. This will help keep your team focused and motivated to continuously improve.

Reflect and learn

Make time for regular reviews, where your team can reflect on what went well, what didn’t, and what can be improved. Use these insights to guide future decisions and adjustments to your approach. You don’t need to adhere to any specific methodology or process to do this. Try different ways to ensure team is taking the time to reflect, learn, and commit to making changes to improve.

Empower your team

Empower your team members to make decisions, take ownership of their work, and contribute to the overall success of the project. This sense of autonomy fosters a more engaged, innovative, and collaborative team dynamic. By setting clear principles, you can empower your team to make decisions and take action without needing to micromanage every step of the way.

Avoid dogmatism

Remember that the Agile Manifesto is a set of guiding principles, not rigid rules. Be open to adapting your processes and practices as needed to better align with your team’s unique needs and challenges.

By fostering an agile mindset within your team, you’ll be able to break free from the constraints of acting Agile™© and fully embrace the adaptability, collaboration, and continuous improvement that true agility offers. Ultimately, this will lead to more effective software development and a greater ability to deliver value to customers.

An actual Ode to Agile

Courtesy of GPT-4

Oh Agile, thou art a beacon bright,
A promise to cut through the night,
In nimble steps and sprints so small,
We vowed to conquer, one and all.

The stand-ups came, a ritual dance,
As progress marched with daily prance,
But ne’er did programmers cease to ask,
If software sprouted from each task?

The backlog grew, as did our dreams,
Of features bursting at the seams,
Yet every sprint we’d reconvene,
And find our ship had barely gleaned.

We groomed and planned with zeal and glee,
In retrospectives, shared our plea,
But tales of woe did oft resound,
Of working software scarcely found.

The Scrum, the Kanban, we embraced,
Through ceremonies, time was graced,
But though we toiled and pledged anew,
The product stalled, as chaos grew.

We sprinted on with fervent cries,
Our stand-up hymns rose to the skies,
Yet Agile’s grace, once radiant bright,
Now seemed a cruel and mocking sight.

In irony, our tale unfolds,
As Agile’s jest, our fate it holds,
The dance we danced, the songs we sung,
Left working software still unsprung.

So heed this tale of Agile woe,
Of dreams and plans that never grow,
For when the rituals reign supreme,
It’s working software left unseen.