Why are people backing away from agile (theory 2) – who is the tool?

I recently ran a coaching session for a team who have been adopting agile.  They were struggling to gain value from some of the practices and felt a little guilty, but I was impressed with how they collaborated, focused on what mattered and took accountability for delivery.

I told them that they were actually pretty agile, but they were not making the best use of the agile ceremonies or the techniques such as user stories.

It got me thinking about the value of agile and where I had seen it work.   Then I started thinking about why it failed in so many cases.   And that is what this article is about – why agile often seems to fail when the coach and the team want it to work.

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Agile starting in kindergarten?

Earlier this year my daughter came to work with me.  Although she was only 6 years old at the time, she came to co-deliver a day in the agile coaching course that I was running.

It was interesting to watch as she explained the growth mindset, “golden conversations” and the importance of mixing both persistence and flexibility in order to build resilience.

But where did she learn all that?  I would love to say that having an agile coach for a father helped her, but I am increasingly starting to fear that in fact, her grade one class is a high performing agile team and that somehow we are “un-teaching” kids agile so that they struggle as adults.

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A slightly modified release planning game – the lost alphabet 2018 version

I invented a release planning game many years ago and I have used it in training quite a few times.  Then Eduardo Meira Peres invented a much simpler version.

Teams must use sprints to recreate the alphabet after society forgot how to spell words.  The game covers concepts like sprints, velocity and adaptive planning in a very simple way.

I am using the game again in some courses so I have simplified the game a little to focus only on velocity, dealing with change and adaptive planning.

I have attached the instructions for both the participants and the trainer – give it a go.  It is free and its quick and easy to use in a class or workshop.

Lost alphabet 2018 version facilitators guide

Lost alphabet 2018 version iteration instructions

Agile versus knowledge part one – stories are great

Last week I gave a talk for business analysts in Sydney on “documentation for agile teams”

My talk did not really contain anything too radical, but it did draw a reasonable crowd, with 80 business analysts making time to come after a full day of work.

So why did 80 people turn up when, being business analysts, they are probably already quite good at documenting the things that agile teams need?  It is not like agile is a new concept.

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Why are people backing away from agile? Theory one – losing sight of craftsmanship

Agile approaches are great and I even tell my friends to use them. But recently I have noticed some organisations backing away from their agile implementations.

It got scarier when I noticed that Ron Jeffries, one of the original signatories to the Agile Manifesto, wrote an article titled “Developers should abandon agile.”

It’s a good read and he makes some good points.  You can find the article here at this link.

Debate is always good, but it is scary that one of the founders of a movement is talking about giving up on it.

So what is going on, are people giving up on agile?  From where I sit there are a lot of people taking up agile approaches.

Are the founders of agile getting nervous because a new generation is taking things further than the old guard were comfortable with?  I don’t think that is the case.

Or is “going agile,” and even “being agile” failing to deliver value for the people who do implement it?

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True confessions. I was an agile project manager

I was once an agile project manager.  In fact I did it more than once.

If that is not shocking enough then maybe I should also confess that I have coached, trained and enabled others to be agile project managers.

In this article I will share my experience of being an agile PM without a real product owner or team facilitator (scrum master, kanban commander, iteration manager etc).  I think it worked out well, but I will let you be the judge.

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Is it really that hard to learn agile?

I work with people going agile.  Sometimes it is an awesome experience and sometimes it is quite depressing.

For example, I worked with some good, experienced people a while back.  They were were pretty sad before I turned up and pretty happy that I came to help them. This is the part of the agile coaching experience that is awesome.

Before the dawn of agile:

  • Business cases took longer to get approval than some projects took to deliver; and
  • Worse than that, some projects took longer to die than the fading spirit of the team members on the project.

Then I arrived, crashing through the window with index cards in one hand and a mandate to free the people from tyranny in the other.

This is where I like to play.

Editor’s note – Unfortunately this article turns out to be a long read, so grab a cup of tea, or just look for some nice pictures and skip all the boring text.

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Use the river diagram to communicate data

I run a lot of workshops, including planning workshops and retrospectives.  Sometimes the crew votes on things like “what is the best feature, or how did we go this time.”

But sometimes we collect data and then want to discuss it as a team.  And this presents a challenge – I like data in a spreadsheet and I like pictures on the wall but sometimes it seems hard to capture numbers in a useful way in the workshop.

But do not fear – the River Diagram is here and this is exactly what it is for.


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