Stop trying to "go agile". No, really.

I've watched companies for the better part of a decade try to introduce agile practices into their work, with relatively little success. Most commonly, they see limited localized improvements, create much more chaos than that, and some of their best people quit out of frustration. I have seen one thing in common with these organizations: they treat "going agile" as a goal unto itself, rather than as a way to solve significant, pressing problems. They do things like measuring how "mature" their agile transition is, based on which percentage of teams are writing automated tests, which percentage of teams have daily stand-up meetings, which percentage of teams have a certified Scrum master. In short, they encourage people to "do agile things", rather than solve real problems.

So give yourself the gift of sanity this Christmas, and refuse to play this game. For all the talk of agile being dead, passé, ruined, whatever, I don't believe it. Don't let the people writing those articles distract you from a more significant problem by telling you that "agile is over" and that you need to try the "next new thing". Nonsense. It would suffice for you to refuse to treat the agile practices as a set of rules to follow. Instead, treat the agile practices as tools in a toolbox to use to solve real problems. Perhaps then you can do some meaningful, effective work.

Don't treat agile practices like levels of a video game to conquer. No-one cares that you do TDD if you don't use that practice to reduce the marginal cost of features by keeping designs simple. No-one cares whether you had a stand-up meeting this morning if you don't use it as an opportunity to better understand where your bottlenecks lie. No-one cares that you demonstrate software to internal customer proxies if you don't use the resulting feedback to deliver a smaller, more value-rich product sooner.

Instead, go to the people who insist that you "go agile" and ask them questions like these.

  1. Which problems do you expect agile practices to solve?
  2. What results do you hope to see from these agile practices?
  3. Why these agile practices now?
  4. How will you know that we're making progress?

You won't necessarily enjoy the resulting conversations, but if you take them seriously, then they will stop you from wasting a colossal amount of energy pretending to improve.

Learning how to "do Agile" or Scrum or Lean or Kanban... this helps, but it takes you only so far. You need help with your tough questions. You need somewhere to go to ask whether you're on the right track, making the right decision, solving the right problem. It's hard to tell the good advisers from the bad. If you like what I have to say, then you'd probably enjoy having me on your team.

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