Monday, January 10, 2011

Agile and the Trough of Disillusionment

Everywhere you look, companies are turning to Agile. Even my sister, who works for a huge European city’s government, said that she’s introducing Agile practices. Professional Services organizations say they need to “go Agile” because their clients demand it.

Yet, when examining what that means in practice, not much is really changing. People are still starting multi-year projects, with massive scope, budgets and resources. They still fail to establish proper project context within which costs and risks can be contained. And they still plan the execution in excruciating detail, to then execute the plan to the letter. Wavering from this plan equals failure. And as such, people expecting Agile to finally solve their organizational challenges are very disappointed: Agile seems like a lot of smoke, mirrors and snake oil.

The rub lies in how organizations measure success.

The only reliable measure of success is the value of capitalizable assets. It doesn’t matter how well you executed the project to plan, if whatever your team delivered does not generate revenue, make you more competitive or reduce costs, it was wasted effort.

The concept of putting a clear business value on each project already sets them up for success. Success as measured in low-risk, high-value execution. Stopping a project because it has become too risky or net negative value is only sound business. Better to use the resources on a different initiative that remains viable rather than have them go to waste on a deathmarch project.

Agile, unlike Scrum and XP, is not a set of activities and processes: it’s a risk-mitigation philosophy. The activities employed to implement this philosophy tend to be industry-specific. Furthermore, the way these activities are executed differs for each organization. If the results are supporting the philosophy, there is no wrong way to do Agile. If an organization continuously evaluates its effectiveness and output, and seeks to diminish any factors that negatively impact it, it could be called Agile.

From this follows that ‘going Agile” is not something that can be relegated to the troops while the generals continue business as usual. On the contrary: there has to be very strong leadership, by example and by changed behavior, to support an organization’s move to Agile.

So in conclusion, the disillusionment with Agile is understandable. Now that practitioners are waking up to the root causes, we’re entering a new, more mature stage of Agile-ness and move into the era of Executive Agile Transformation.


Post a Comment

<< Home