August 02, 2017

What You Think You Know About Agile Is (Probably) Wrong

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By guest blogger Dave Prior, Certified Scrum Trainer and Agile Consultant, LeadingAgile.

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Inigo Montoya.

“Agile” has become a very popular word in the business world. Unfortunately, as its usage has increased, its actual meaning has become a little too…um… agile. Here are four common misconceptions.

1: It will make us faster.
While an agile approach may help your organization deliver features more rapidly, that’s probably because it forces you to confront the things that have been slowing you down in the first place. In many ways, “agile” is simply an attitude. It raises your awareness of things that impede progress or affect quality. You can become faster if you are willing to change.

2: It has no documentation.
The Agile Manifesto says, “We value working software over comprehensive documentation.” It does not say, “We don’t do documentation.” The question you should ask yourself regarding documentation is, “How is this helping us deliver value for our customers?” If you need to deliver documentation when you ship product, such as a manual that will help the customer support team, obviously you should keep doing it. But if you are doing documentation just because the PMO says you have to, or because you’ve always done it, it’s time to re-evaluate.

3: It doesn't work on fixed time/fixed cost projects.
This one is just plain wrong. One of the best things about agile is the transparency it requires. It raises awareness of how your team is delivering the desired scope against the schedule or budget. If your team is not likely to complete all the desired work by the end of the schedule, or within the defined budget, then you will have to make some choices about scope. This same problem occurs with a traditional (waterfall) approach. What’s different is that agile raises awareness sooner and is more likely to result in a conversation that will focus on prioritizing the most valuable items and pushing the least valuable items to the bottom of the list. No approach to managing work can guarantee you’ll accomplish everything before the schedule/budget runs out. But with the prioritization techniques that many agile teams use, you make sure your customer is getting what they need most, first.

4: It doesn’t work here because we’re different/special/[insert reason].
Sure, every company is different, special, unique. But they all have one thing in common. If they complain that agile doesn’t work, it’s because A) they are only sort of doing it, or B) they went “agile” before they were ready.

Does your company fit one of those descriptions? Be honest. Have you put a lot of time and effort into second-guessing agile and changing it back into something closer to waterfall? If so, that’s why it’s not working. If you want it to succeed, take a committed approach to agile first and then judiciously.

If you can’t commit to agile because your organization isn’t suited for it yet — well, again, there’s your problem. You need to get in shape before you try to adopt agile practices. Not everyone can just get up and run a marathon. You might need to make some basic changes in your organization and culture before you run a long race. You can’t be agile if you don’t limber up first.


Dave Prior is an Certified Scrum Trainer and an Agile Consultant for LeadingAgile. He has been working with agile methodologies since 1999. His work is focused on establishing a better bridge between agile and the traditional project management worlds. Dave is an active volunteer for the Agile Alliance and the Scrum Alliance and he also writes and creates podcasts ProjectManagement.com.

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