Agile is not always the answer

Agile is not always the answerI love Agile. Agile is great. It’s dynamic, focuses on value, empowers the workforce. Hurrah – up with the Agile manifesto!

I also hate Agile.

I hate Agile for a number of reasons, but probably the biggest right now is how it has become the lazy answer to business needs. We need to become Agile. We need to adopt Agile. We need to think Agile. Agile should be our default answer.

No, no, no.

Agile is a great framework and idea. Scrum and other Agile methodologies can be highly effective approaches for delivering and embedding changes, particularly IT changes. However, Agile is not the only and complete answer. Too many organisations are jumping into Agile without first clarifying what question they are even needing to answer.

A few years ago I got into a heated argument with another management consultant over the use of Agile. He was arguing that all IT teams should be Agile product teams, constantly working to develop IT solutions under their remit. I disagreed strongly. “If it makes sense, absolutely,” I argued,“but some IT systems and environments may not be suitable. There will be various cases where it just doesn’t make commercial sense or justify the level of effort”. We never agreed. He’s now a senior figure in the DevOps community which is perhaps not a surprise. The idea that the Agile way of working is the defacto answer before you’ve asked the question is the problem. He was trying to apply Agile to everything because it was such an effective model, but he wasn’t asking about what was needed or desired.

If a company wants to be more ‘digital’, then it first needs to understand what it means by this and what it really wants to achieve. Define that first, then with an open mind look at the how. Agile may not be the best or only answer. A news organisation I helped a few years back decided to implement IT changes through rolling 8 week mini projects. This was highly effective, allowed them to easily commission work to different suppliers and to deliver changes quickly. They had product owners and daily stand ups, but didn’t do Agile. They borrowed Agile ceremonies and even roles from the likes of Scrum, but equally took much of their delivery approach from frameworks such as Prince 2. This was highly effective and they are one of the most digital organisations I know. They have agility.

So that’s why I hate Agile but, as I said at the start, I also love Agile. It is great for a number of reasons, but blindly loving something without seeing its faults is a mistake. It means you might apply Agile when it’s not right for you, and that can be far more dangerous than not doing Agile at all.

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