How can you recognize true agilism when you see it?

Over the past few months I have become increasingly convinced that the world of agilism is losing sight, little by little, of what is really important.

Right now we are at a juncture where agile methods have finally arrived at large Spanish companies and are even talked about in board meetings.

However, this has happened, not so much on its own merit, but thanks in part to the publicity it has received from bank ads which “have done away with managers and departments” and papers from big consultancy firms about “tribes and squads,” which, in my opinion, have barely scratched the surface of what being agile is all about.

This type of contents, albeit very helpful for spreading agilism, also causes agilism to lose its true essence bit by bit.

And these articles are just a small example of this. I get on social media and see many threads about the proper name of things: Why a demo is something quite different from a review; why scrum is a framework and, on the other hand, SAFe is a library, but waterfall is a methodology; and so forth.

I also see many threads about anti-patterns, where some people include techniques such as sprint 0, inception or dual tracking.

I find too much content regarding how important it is to differentiate between what falls within the purview of scrum and ‘bastard add-ons’ such as the daily stand-up meeting or product burndown, which are not included in the Scrum Guide.

I am not saying these conversations are not important, but I think we are falling very short of true agilism if we only talk about these things.

I think that if we let ourselves be swept by the ‘industry’ that is appearing around agilism we run the risk of turning into scrum zombies who only worship superficial practices, thus letting the essence of the why and what for slip through our fingers.

Dave Thomas already reached a similar conclusion a few years back in his spectacular talk “Agile is Dead”. Because in the end, if you really think about it, what is true agilism? I would say that it can be recognized by the following 5 characteristics:

  • People who, first of all, behave according to agile values – before agile practices,
  • who work in small, multidisciplinary, self-organizing teams,
  • who deliver often and get feedback from actual users,
  • who focus on business value rather than on deliverables and costs, and
  • who experiment with the product and the process as much as possible.

Everything else is secondary. There is no need for tribes or the complete set of certifications, or for cool doodles that sum up meetings, or for ping-pong tables or sticky notes.

Under this idea of agilism, I miss more contents that focus on those results which have been obtained thanks to agilism: How much it has helped to improve products or increase earnings; what has helped companies to leave their competition behind; what has contributed to cut down the time to market; how it has helped employees be more motivated…

I long for more stories like this one from Dropbox, which talks about the results of an iterative, incremental approach in a real environment without needing to underscore the rigorousness of the method.

I would love to see more agile coaches talking about those successful products they have helped to build and the companies they have transformed. Especially in the latter regard, frameworks and guides do not hold the answer to all potential situations that could arise. This is why personal experiences are even more valuable.

My fellow Cristina always highlights how little is said about agile values and how they can be made tangible in real situations. Teams that help each other and work as a unit, where people have no problem helping in any way possible if their role has no specific tasks in a given sprint, or teams where people behave like friends and set aside their task to help solve a problem with a task that is more critical for the end goal at that given moment in time.

Perhaps now that agilism has become more or less widespread, the time has come to move to the next level in conversational terms. It is time to be honest and prove that all this helps to achieve better results.

When I talk about results I mean business results – but also results in terms of personal growth within teams themselves – and results attained not at any price but at a sustainable work rate, and always honestly, without trying to fool anybody.

Some might interpret this as the lure of the ‘dark side of the force’ but I see it as a natural evolution – which does not mean turning our backs on agilism or saying that we have already reached the summit and there is nothing left to improve.

You’ve already got your driver’s licence, you’ve put a lot of miles on your car, and you check the mirrors and change gears without thinking; you drive almost instinctively. The driving process proper takes a back seat and you concentrate on enjoying the trip or travelling to interesting places.

This is what I think the essence of agilism is, but I am convinced that the key is to accept there is not just one definition of ‘true agilism’ and that only by acknowledging this we can keep on learning and improving from a perspective of respect for other solutions.

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