Two Legs Good.

Two Legs Good

At the end of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, the pigs who were the leaders of the revolution partied with human farmers and wrote “Two legs good” on the farm barn wall. They wrote over “Two legs bad, four legs good” which had been their slogan when they led the other farm yard animals in revolution against the farmer who ran the farm before them.

Two weeks ago at the Agile2013 conference in Nashville I felt compelled to write “Two legs good” in bright red paint around the venue. I did not of course but felt that we should mark the end of the Agile Experiment and a return to status quo.

Two legs bad, Four legs good

The Agile Revolution was a reaction to the prevailing approach to telling people how to develop software. The manifesto was clear “We will continue to develop better ways of delivering software by DOING IT and helping others DO IT. The manifesto was followed by a status report “so far, we have come to value…”

The Agile Manifesto could be rewritten “Theory only bad. Practice supported by Theory good.”

The Agile Manifesto was a call to arms. No longer would we develop software based on some theory developed in University or IBM labs. We would apply an empirical (experiential learning) approach. Practitioners working on real world projects would share their experiences. The Agile Community would then test them out and refine them. Then and only then would they be promoted commercially. Version One and Rally established themselves as software vendors who provided tools to support the Agile Practices rather than promote new practices to sell their tools.

This did not mean that the Agile Community ditched theory and ideas. I used theory to develop and hone my own practices. When I was sure that the practices worked, I shared them. I did not promote my theory untested in the real world.

Two legs good

Two weeks ago I walked around the vendor booths at Agile2013 and I was disgusted. The farmers were back. There were several booths promoting SAFE, a framework for scaling Agile. I know nothing about the details of SAFE other than the following:

The only people who really knew anything about it were selling it either as trainers or consultants.
I did not encounter a single person who had successfully implemented SAFE.
There are few if any case studies of corporations implementing SAFE.

SAFE is meant to be an enterprise wide framework. These frameworks can take years to implement and even longer to assess whether they are successful. The Agile Community is now in the grips of a SAFE selling frenzy.

If I were a manager attending Agile2013 who did not know too much about Agile, I would be under the impression that SAFE was safe. After all, there were three or four vendors promoting it. I would take it home to my enterprise unaware that I was testing yet another theory on how to develop software.

Please take a minute or two and reflect in silence. Think back just a few years to when that Agile learning machine had produced practices that had been tested first. Now pay your respects as we lament the death of Agile.

Someone just shot the Agile brand in the back of the head, but at least the Agile Alliance got to charge them for doing it.

“Two legs good”. Paint it big. Paint it red.

About theitriskmanager

Currently an “engineering performance coach” because “transformation” and “Agile” are now toxic. In the past, “Transformation lead”, “Agile Coach”, “Programme Manager”, “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, and “Developer”. Did some stuff with the Agile Community. Put the “Given” into “Given-When-Then”. Discovered “Real Options” View all posts by theitriskmanager

16 responses to “Two Legs Good.

  • Dan North

    My thoughts exactly. Although you could equally substitute Disciplined Agile Delivery or any of the other new wave of “scaled agile” frameworks. Enterprises want shrink-wrapped solutions, which is why Scrum won the methodology war – it has a certicate.

    Here’s the thing, Agile doesn’t scale! That wasn’t the problem the original folks were trying to solve. We need a new generation of “experimental agile practitioners” who are able to demonstrate success at scale, and more than once, which will take time. Otherwise at best it’s just a happy coincidence turned into a sales opportunity.

  • Hani Suleiman

    Frankly, this has always been the case with Agile. A lot of people made (and make) a lot of money from selling agile. It has awesome marketing, and has appropriately enticing language to lure in people on all the rungs of the corporate ladder.

    Yes, a very few people ‘got it’ by doing it. The one thing that nobody seems to have noticed is that those few people are those who had previously succeeded with pretty much any other methodology, by figuring out how to optimise the critical path, and by having a eye out for roadblocks and inefficiencies.

    The key to success is ultimately having a few clued up people, agile or no agile. You can beat a bunch of dimwits with agilespeak for months and get no results, because it’s not the process, it’s the people.

    Admittedly, that’s what agile *says*, but in most cases it’s just an empty mantra, if it were the people, why is there such a huge marketplace selling agile snake oil?

  • Greg Helton

    Wikipedia gives credit for SAFe to Dean Leffingwell who is described in Amazon’s author’s bio as follows:
    Mr. Leffingwell was founder and CEO of consumer marketing identity company, ProQuo, Inc. He also served as chief methodologist to Rally Software ( where he focused on the application of agile development methods to large scale software development. Formerly, Mr. Leffingwell served as Sr. Vice President to Rational Software (now IBM’s Rational Division), where his responsibilities included development and commercialization of the Rational Unified Process (RUP), ClearQuest, RequisitePro and the company’s methodology and product training courses.

    Hopefully SAFe will achieve the same level of success as RUP.

  • magia3e

    I do a lot of agile coaching in government environments where the layers of the portfolio, program and project world rule. Here, typically, the lack of connectedness between these layers means teams and project work, regardless of whether it involves software development or not, suffers greatly.

    To me, SAFe is a great reminder to those who don’t understand team and agile work that we work in ecosystems and that all the P3 layers need to work in a collaborative way. As such, SAFe is not really a way of scaling agile delivery but reinforcing that to enable agile delivery the enterprise needs a product and value focus that can best be had (as a good practice not best practice) thru the use of tools like kanban, product roadmaps and separating envisioning from the actual delivery process.


  • Seán D. Middleton (@SeanDMiddleton)

    … and in green on top of the red strike the “od” at the end to get:
    “Two legs go”
    and in positive green continue
    “to where it’s SAFe”

  • Seán D. Middleton (@SeanDMiddleton)

    … and in purple after that
    “…. & leave two feet and their head to go somewhere useful. These feet are made for walking & that’s just what they’ll do.”

  • Dave Nicolette

    +1, except that I don’t think the end of the “agile” experiment means a return to the status quo ante. The end of the experiment doesn’t mean the end of the useful and valuable things that have been learned.

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    • theitriskmanager

      Hi Seb

      Agile is many things. For me, it is the following…

      1. A community of practitioners who gathered around the manifesto to find better ways of doing software.

      2. An ever growing set of practices, tools and “methodologies” created by the community.

      3. A brand for selling the above.

      My post refers to the brand. The first two will simply rebrand when “Agile” dies. In fact, some of the Agile practices (TDD, CI) are now considered good practice independent of Agile.

      Agile is a trusted Brand and selling something that is not properly tested will result in the destruction of that trust which will kill the brand.

      • sebrose

        Thanks for this clarification which cuts to the core of the matter.

        The relationship between the manifesto, the practices and the brand is unclear (at least to me).

        When I use the word ‘agile’ I’m referring to the values and principles of the manifesto. I sometimes use the phrase ‘agile practices’, but I’m trying to stop myself because I believe these practices have value independently.

        Brands worry me, whether it’s laptops, clothes or methodologies. I seem to be in the minority ;(

      • Seb Rose (@sebrose)

        Thanks for this clarification, which I think cuts to the core of the issue.

        The relationship between the manifesto, the practices and the brand can be understood in many different ways. People mean different things when they talk about ‘agile’ – leading to misunderstandings.

        When I use the term ‘agile’ I’m referring to the values and principles described in the manifesto.

        I sometimes use the phrase ‘agile practices,’ but I’m trying to stop myself because, like you, I think they have value independently. I prefer to think of them as software development practices (because I normally work with technical teams).

        Brand is something that I’m uncomfortable with, whether we’re talking about clothes, laptops or methodologies. Am I in the minority by feeling this way?

      • theitriskmanager

        Hi Seb

        The Agile brand is very valuable to the consultants and practitioners that have spent the last decade building its reputation. It had become a way of differentiating themselves. Unfortunately there are now people who want to cash in on that brand, people who do not care whether they damage the brand. (If they did, they would have estabished a credible ecosystem of practitioners with stories of success and failure before they launched their product. Instead, 2 days of training and you are an expert helping to build another pyramid).

        Steve Freeman introduced me to the tragedy of the commons. Despite the best efforts of the people who care for a thing, there are always people who will abuse a shared resource and result in it being damaged.

        The Agile brand is a shared resource. The Agile Alliance was formed to promote the brand. Perhaps the Agile Alliance should have thought to protect the brand as well. They couldn’t because they were quietly counting their money whilst others abused the brand.

        I wonder how all those people who built the Agile brand will feel when they suddenly discovers doors are being shut in their faces.

  • Seb Rose (@sebrose)

    Why is a brand so valuable? Because people (in general) seem susceptible to a response that I think of as “value by association.”

    This is what makes me uncomfortable, and I feel sufficiently uncomfortable to blog about it in isolation at

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