Stop saying ‘agile’

The profession of Agile Coaching is dead according to Mariya Breyter in her talk at Big Apple Scrum Day 2015. She says there are currently too many people with too few skills acting as Agile Coaches and leaving members of the industry hiring anyone who has ‘Scrum Master’ on their resume as an agile coach. I believe the industry doesn’t know the difference. The words ‘agile’ and ‘agile coach’ have become dirty and I’m not alone in thinking so…

Dave Thomas says: “Agile is dead, long live agility.”  He makes great points on his blog about consultants coming in to an organization heavy on process and tools, but essentially missing the point.

What’s going on here?

‘Agile’ has adapted and evolved into a new form of the disease it was designed to eradicate. Rather than ‘Agile’ being a lofty goal for a business to achieve with many cultural frameworks designed to help get there, it has become the shackles it was designed to break through meaningless and misunderstood job titles, meetings, and artifacts. Rather than ensuring we do what’s right at the right time ‘Agile’, for many, is giving an excuse to do the right thing later when its convenient. While ignoring root cause, more and more band-aids are applied to your organization and the real problems become masked in legacy with statements like “it is what it is” said around every water cooler. The cure becomes the disease and it calcifies within the organization to become the new status quo.

Industry events are filled with dogmatic agile preachers and those hoping for an agile messiah. They include those who care only for agile tactics, not for agile strategy. If I were to host an agile themed conference tomorrow and needed three topics to get people in the door, the agenda would have to look something like this:

  • 101 ways to write a user story and get sign-off
  • Agile frameworks best for fixed scope and date projects
  • Fire all managers!

In certain pockets, the agile education industry is moving away from teaching and coaching to doing the work and mentoring the client as they go.  The value of being self-sufficient as an organization is seen as less than just getting important work done. I’ll come right out with it: If you have no intention of building a company and culture that can respond quickly to change, getting things done now and learning later is what you have to do. However, I don’t believe you’ll survive long.

I’ll probably get my teaching license revoked for writing this, but I’m sorry…few of your customers care about the “Agile Manifesto.” The point of that manifesto is to draw a line in the sand about what’s reasonable. It’s about giving technology professionals permission to do what’s right for the customers. Its about building the right thing at the right time and responding to inevitable and unforeseen change keeping our customers happy.

What can we do about this?

I suggest the agile community get back to talking about these ideas in terms we all understand and remove the buzz-word bingo we’re all against in the first place.

Let’s stop talking about ‘agile and take a page from the book Fight Club and make it the first rule of agile: we don’t talk about ‘agile’. Instead let’s focus purely on the principles from which everyone can agree and go from there. Avoid all tendencies to slip back to using slick marketable labels which carry little substance.

I say we go even further. Let’s replace the title “Agile Coach” with something else, how about “Continuous Improvement advisor.”  To make the change in this industry we all crave we’re going to have to speak in a language we can all understand. The ‘A’ word is polluting our movement and preventing change we’re trying to create. Let’s stop using it.






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