Competing Agile Voices

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Competing Agile Voices

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I was having an email conversation with an agile coaching colleague the other day. In one of her replies, she said the following: 

BTW I really like the way you articulate your concerns about the agile community at large. It’s helpful to share with my leadership and customers as we try to navigate a very messy space of certifications, frameworks, and competing agile voices

The final point she made really struck a chord with me. The notion of competing agile voices.

It made me realize that, YES, there are many, many agile voices today. And one of the real challenges is to figure out who to listen to. Where’s the value and the experience? And how to avoid the “noise” or how to separate the wheat from the chaff?

I want to share some ideas around this challenge. No, I’m not sharing any secret filter or the 1-person to listen to. They don’t exist.

But I do want to share some advice for handling the high voice count and how to become a more discerning listener when it comes to the noise.

I guess I want to share the bad news first. As agile matures, it’s getting worse year over year. There are more books, podcasts, articles, blogs, etc. Agile content, and the associated opinions, is exploding.

The other part of the phenomena is that, as people gain experience, they become “experts”. Sharing expert opinions based on sometimes quite limited and/or myopic experience. But you don’t necessarily know that when you’re reading or listening to their recommendations.

I imagine this is true with any change initiative. As the energy and passion grows, folks from all walks of life get on board for the ride. It doesn’t help that money drives much of this.

Anyway, the point is, I don’t think the situation is going away. So I want to suggest some things to help you find the real value amongst the noise…

  1. Experience – do they have significant experience not only in years, but across a broader set of contexts? You can tell this in the variety, depth and breadth, of their stories, examples, and case studies.

  2.  Other voices referencing their ideas – are other “voices” in the community referencing their ideas and materials? If not, then you might want to measure your reaction to the ideas.

  3.  Endurance – I hate to say it, but longevity does count. It not only implies experience, but a commitment and perseverance level to their work.

  4.  Are they “giving back” – do they give back to the community via mentoring, prop bono work, coaching camps, etc? Are they advancing the community of practice? Or are they just chasing the dollars?

  5.  Certifications – while not a critical factor, advanced and broad certifications might help you determine the breadth of their experience. But beware of alphabet soups.

  6.  Branding – have they built their own brand in the space. For example, Larman and Vodde have built quite a brand around scaling and LeSS. Not advocating for it, just saying…

  7.  Walking the talk – saying things is one thing. Doing what you say is entirely another. Do they walk their principles? Even when no one is watching?

  8.  Humility – are they sharing with generosity and humility or is it all about them? Do they respect different perspectives and are they open to other ideas?

  9.  Do they share their failures – is it all roses and sunshine or do they equally share their failures with their successes. How often and what have they learned?

  10.  Show me the money – sometimes voices are into one thing. That is riding the agile wave and generating as much revenue as possible. Fair, but it’s hard to trust a voice that’s focused solely on one thing.

  1. Smell test – I sometimes call this my Spider Sense. Sometimes I feel like something is “off” in a voice, but I can’t put my finger on it. I’ve learned to trust that voice (my own 😉

  2.  Common sense – don’t forget about using your common sense. If the voice is saying something silly, or hand-waving, or providing no examples, then it’s probably not worth listening to.

  3.  Principles – are the stories and examples your hearing lining up with basic agile principles. If not, then perhaps move on.

  4.  Experiment – you can always experiment with what you hear. Try it out and see if it works for you.

  5.  Ask another voice – one of the great things in our agile community is just that, it’s a community. When in doubt, validate it with a friend or colleague.

Here are a set of exemplars from our community. This list is NOT in any special order NOR is it exhaustive. I could easily go on and on as I know so many wonderful voices in our community.

But it does serve as a set of examples to illustrate my point surrounding who you might want to listen to…

  1. Mike Cohn

  2. Mike Burrows

  3. Esther Derby

  4. Roman Pichler

  5. Barry Overeem

  6. Geoff Watts

  7. Adrian Howard

  8. Angela Wick

  9. Ellen Gottesdiener

  10. Johanna Rothman

  11. Lyssa Adkins

  12. Ron Jeffries

  13. Dan Mezick

  14. Jeff Sutherland

  15. Jared Spool

Note: I certainly don’t agree with everything these folks say or do. But they have stood the test of time in their contributions, ideas, stances, attitudes and journeys.

colleagues i trust

And here’s a small list of folks who I’ve worked with and who have voices that I trust…

  1. Mary Thorn

  2. Josh Anderson

  3. Ryan Ripley

  4. Shaun Bradshaw

  5. Leon Sabarsky

  6. Cory Bryan

  7. Lee Eason

  8. Paul Merrill

  9. Ken Pugh

  10. Catherine Louis

 Again, not exhaustive. And we certainly don’t always agree 😉 However, they are voices that I respect and trust.

I would encourage all of you to become better filters of all of the stuff that comes at you through the various agile streams. There’s certainly a lot of information. Determine your own lists of trusted voices who pass your tests for agile practicality, wisdom, guidance, and expertise.

And please realize that there’s a lot of “snake oil” in the world. But the good news is ultimately every voice is only sharing ideas. It’s up to all of us to make those ideas work in our own contexts.

And as you grow in your experience, please consider sharing your own lessons…becoming a voice yourself. But a voice for good please.

Stay agile my friends,


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