Has Agile Jumped the Shark? Part deux!

Has Agile Jumped the Shark? Part deux!

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About a year ago my podcasting partner Josh Anderson asked me this question. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard the term before he brought it up. It inspired me to write this brief blog post for Velocity Partners.

I was hoping to get some traction on the questions I posed in the post, but I don’t believe anyone responded. This was about a year ago and I recently attended a presentation that made me reflect back on it.

Here’s a link to the original podcast.

Just this week (November 13, 2014) I was lucky enough to sit in on Jeff ‘Cheezy’ Morgan’s keynote at the Better Software and Agile Development Practices Conference in Orlando. It was entitled: The Future of Agile: Dilution, Calcification, or Evolution?

Cheezy did a great job in the keynote. I was really glad for him as I think it might have been his first at a ‘major’ conference. As with all keynotes, at least the good ones, it made me start thinking about agile and our future. It also reminded me of the past and what got us here.

Cheezy made the point that the origins of agile were from a software development perspective. Of the original 17 signatories of the Agile Manifesto, 16 were developers and 1 was a tester. Of those 16, at least 11 were “active” developers…and they probably still are.

Extreme Programming was the central methodology at the time that the manifesto was signed. Sure, Scrum was around, as was Feature-Driven Development and a few others, but XP was the leading approach. The reason I bring it up is that it too was very developer-centric in it’s perspective.

As Cheezy pointed out in his keynote, then basically the “managers” and “project managers” took over agile. One measure of this is the topics from the agile conferences. Developer-centric topics have dwindled over time and we’re focusing mostly on:

  • Agile estimation
  • Agile requirements
  • Agile testing
  • Agile release planning
  • Agile certifications
  • Agile scaling
  • Agile coaching
  • Agile risk and metrics

Seeming to focus on everything BUT agile development craft and practices. That’s one of the reasons for the rise of the Agile Development Craftsmanship movement being led, among others, by Uncle Bob Martin. It has become the place for agile developers to get back to their roots as a community.

But it’s been a separation exercise that has divided the community and confused the picture of the WHY and PROMISE behind agility.

And it’s not just that the “managers” have taken over. There are other alarming trends within the community.

Agile Scaling

The focus on scaling frameworks is alarming to me. As I recall the initial Chrysler C3 project that XP lessons surfaced from was a large-scale, enterprise level project. The XP folks brought a much smaller, more integrated team to bear on the project and recovered it.

So the initial focus was on the smallest and simplest possible team dynamics to approach small (and large-scale) projects. The lesson I learned early on was that often project size was a “management dynamic” that made things overly hierarchical and complex, and that small teams could solve these “hard problems” very simply—if only we got out of their way.

Now we’re at it again. Instead of Rational Unified Process solving world hunger, we have:

Solving things for us. And that doesn’t even include the many “home grown” solutions out there.


There are simply too many of them…period!

I’d love to see someone justify the number of disparate certifications we have today. I just saw that LeSS or Large-Scale Scrum scaling approaches by Larman and Bodde are planning on certifying their framework and approaches. This follows on the certification heals of SAFe, DAD, and Agility Path. And in other late-coming news, the SAFe folks appear to be on the cusp of offering a new SAFe – LSE (Lean Systems Engineering) set of certifications. And that’s simply on the side of agile scaling.

There are core agile certifications by the Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, iCAgile, and PMI. There are testing certifications by ISTQB and Certified Agile Tester (CAT). There is a multi-level certification by Innovation Games.

And there are smaller players circling the market, such as ScrumStudy, just looking for any remaining bits to feast on.

Coaches without Experience

The number of “Agile Coaches” seems to increase every day. It seems like anyone who has a “bit” of success or experience in a specific agile context or is a slightly experienced Scrum Master is hanging out his or her “coaching shingle” and looking for work.

I wish there was some rule where someone had to have a minimum of experience across diverse domains in order to “become” an agile coach. In my perfect world, I’d love to see every coach be required to have a minimum of 8 years of coaching experience and, in addition, have a minimum of 5 years of technical management/leadership experience as well.

Agile Assessments

And of course, we need to GRADE all of these agile teams so we can manage their improvement efforts.

I just noticed that Sally Elatta and Agile Transformation have released their agile assessment tool – AgilityHealth. It reminded me that this space is getting a bit crowded as well (and probably will continue to expand) as folks figure out how to monetize assessments and their supporting tools.

Already in this space are: Evidence Based Management, Comparative Agility, Forrester, Scaled Agile Framework assessments, Agile Adoption Index – Sidky, and the Agile Journey Index – Krebs.

I must admit that I have an affinity for Bill Krebs AJI and have extended it into the area of Scrum Product Ownership. Still, I use the framework in my coaching, but I don’t monetize the framework beyond that.

Chasing “Shiny Objects”

Finally, we all seem to be chasing fads. For example, right now the Google, Facebook, and Microsoft model of not having testers on agile teams seems to be a very sexy approach. It means developers and customers will be testing the products, but hey, we’ve saved some money haven’t we?

Management 3.0 and its genre of thinking imply that there are nearly no “good managers” in the world and that teams and organizations, clearly all of them, should become self-governing.  You see another case study here with Zappos moving to Holacracy as a company OR the Valve organizational model. Clearly these are appropriate for every organization.

And speaking of structure, we all have to become a member of a Tribe or Squad or a Chapter or a Guild, because if it works for Spotify, it will work for us. I have to pick on my good friend Josh Anderson here. He’s “all in” on using the Spotify organizational conventions at Dude Solutions and I trust that Josh will make it work well because of his experience.

But what of the many agile newbies in the world that adopt the Spotify way without any contrasting experience or insight to get some outside coaching. Will they get the same results as Spotify? Surely!

And the shiny objects in the agile space will only continue to surface…

So, thankfully, Cheezy didn’t use the “Jump the Shark” analogy. But getting back to his point, have we lost sight of the original intent, focus, and value proposition of agile as those 17 individuals envisioned it?

I believe we, as an agile community, HAVE jumped the shark!

We’ve lost ourselves and the original value propositions and motivations of agility. We’ve lost the smallness and simplicity of it. We’ve lost the technical nature of it. We’ve lost the common sense of it. And yes, we’ve given it to the “managers and consultants”.

We’ve also fallen into the historical trap of thinking we can buy agility by buying frameworks and tools. Instead of realizing the agility comes from the team thru hard work, innovation, and investment in continuous improvement.

I believe the big WHY is largely driven by the money, as in – Show me the Money!

It’s a shame really. We could all learn from the father of Extreme Programming, Kent Beck. I don’t believe Kent made a dime directly off of XP frameworks or certifications. To a large degree he “put it out there” in the community and allowed it to influence the community without extreme monetization.

Now if we could only get many of the current pundits to follow his example?

I am NOT implying that scaling frameworks, certifications, coaches, and assessments are entirely bad. Heck, under full disclosure, I am a Certified Scrum Coach (CSC) with the Scrum Alliance, a SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) with Scaled Agile, and I leverage the AJI assessment in my coaching. And I’m certainly NOT implying that making a living coaching and teaching agile is a bad thing. Otherwise, I would be out of business.

That being said, I am incredibly thankful for Cheezy’s Call to Arms. He is putting the burden on all of us, as an agile community, to rebalance our efforts. Asking us to consider the roots of agility and our past towards recovering, realigning, and rebalancing our agile future.

I for one have already begun to rebalance myself. To change how I approach clients and coaching, while renewing my own focus on the TEAM in all of my adoption efforts.

Stay agile my friends,


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