Agile fables · Observations

Somehow I missed agile going mainstream

I recently stumbled on this article again – Original article talking scrum.

Actually someone posted it in LinkedIn .

The ideas seemed so clear and so right when I read the article. In fact it seemed like something “the old guard” had ignored in their ignorance.

This was fresh, free thinking that the old guard would ignore now to their peril, while we who understood it would usher in a new world.

But then I realised that it was written in the 1980’s and was already quite old when I read it the first time.

I had an epiphany.

I used to laugh at old guys who said things like “Cool Daddy o” and “Rock on.” They seemed to think that they were radical and a bit out of control, but to me their music was “what my parents used to listen to.”

It hit me that not long ago, “agile” was something we talked about in cafes as part of the anti-establishment fight against pointless bureaucracy.

We spoke of the “17 anarchists” talking on a mountain and publishing a manifesto. Then we sat back in our arm chairs, sipping our cappuccinos and talking about how we would change the world, if we were in charge, because “those guys in the project office dude – they just don’t get it, you know.”

Recently though, I spoke unceremoniously of the “anarchists” and suddenly feared I had offended people. My informal banter suggested a lack of respect.

Then I realised that, for quite some time, I have been saying things like “governance is agile,” and “Let’s be grown up about this – you can’t just sprint all over the place, you need some standard, simple rules and some idea of where all this is going.”

I realised that I am still wearing my corporate equivalent of flares while in fact my ideas have come into fashion and faded and come back two or three times. It is almost as though my passionate views are now quaint and even retro.

I scream “death to waterfall” and people ask me what waterfall is. I denounce heavy handed management and young managers ask me why anyone would try command and control management when nobody believes it could work.

Then I turn to the agile guys I want to rebel with and I hear them say “those young people are not doing scrum right – they must learn to do it my way” and “We must stabilize the release train – all these people are doing things differently.”

I hear about agile playbooks and project office templates. I even hear about best practice and maturity models of our revolutionary ideas.

But revolutionary ideas are not mature and they are not best practice. They are “in your face” to the old school. We dare them to stop us while we add value in spite of their ludicrous obsession with hierarchy, rules and their precious heritage.

Yet I am not sure that is entirely true anymore. It seems we do have a heritage, we do have rules that people should respect and even sometimes a hierarchy in our agile communes.

A few years ago people told me that “agile has crossed the chasm – it is no longer strange and new and it is rapidly becoming accepted practice.”

I cheered and said “about time. We knew this day would come.”

But I did not really understand that the day had in fact come, nor what that implied.

Somehow I missed the end of the revolution.

We did indeed usher in a new world, we won the war and then somehow we became the establishment.

Our once radical ideas are now taught in universities, published in respected, learned journals and adopted by even the most conservative of organisations. For all I know they are teaching “History of agile in the late middle IT age.”

The pigs in animal farm started out so well, with their manifesto and their self organizing teams. Thanks, somehow, they lost their ideals and became the farmers they had over-thrown.

We also had a manifesto and our self organizing teams and we finally overthrew the old guard. We watched as they fled in terror from our revolutionary armies. And what happened?

We won the war and while they they still speak in dark corners of the return of the detailed methodology of old, we laugh at them, knowing the age of pointless documentation is over.

Their old world of sign-offs, templates and stage gates are gone, relegated to history as a mere footnote in the story of our victorious revolution. Or is that what happened?

I don’t want to become one of the pigs on the farm, leading lambs to the slaughter. I reject the idea that we have pigs and chickens and a great heritage that young people must respect, simply because it is written in some old book, or because some great guy they never heard of said it was the right thing to do.

I am too comfortable to take to the mountains and too conservative to seriously tell people to ignore corporate strategies and value models. So I might have to give up on the illusion I am a revolutionary, fighting against the machine.

Maybe I will be the old guy in this story.

Like him, I will advise people that “It is as you chose it to be,” and help them learn that they are in control, but that with empowerment comes the realization that there are consequences of their choices. The benefit of choice comes with the responsibility for choice.

Or maybe I will be the slightly flawed but totally dependable and cool old guy in Karate Kid, who is not trying to be the hero but rather sharing what he thinks so the hero can win.

But I will not inflict “correct and established” agile standards on people, anymore than I would inflict my old-man “it was cool in the day” music on them.

Instead I will share my knowledge and continue to fight for people to make agile what they want it to be. Agile practices will serve the people, the people will not exist to serve agile practices.

We may be mainstream now, but we can still maintain the passion and values that got us here, rather than laying them down to replay the same music, tell the same stories and engage in agile nostalgia.

Anyway – just saying. I somehow missed that agile had gone mainstream. Now that I have finally noticed, I guess I have some thinking to do.


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