“We value the Principles over the Practices” was one of the key learnings that I took away from the Agile Development Conference in Salt Lake City in 2004. From the start, the “leadership” of the Agile Community decided that the most important aspect of Agile was the Principles and Values, and not the Tools and Practices.
Most Agile Practitioners I know constantly dip into the Principles and Values which act as their true north for how to handle contexts that they have not encountered before. It is the principles and values that drive the creation of new tools and practices, something that was a constant in the early days of Agile. It was the principles and values that allowed people to say “That’s not Agile!”. Many a “good” idea was tossed aside because it did not align with the Agile principles and values.
The problem with the principles and values is that people need to change their values to “get Agile”. It takes time for people to make the journey to a new way of seeing and thinking about the world. And some people don’t make that journey, either because they can’t or they do not want to. By comparison, adopting Agile Practices and Tools is fairly straight forward and generally doesn’t challenge your values and principles. The result is an explosion of the Agile practices and tools, and a absence of the principles and values.
I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar to these:
- A flag ship “Agile” project that follows Scrum/Kanban religiously but hasn’t done a release to customers for two years.
- Development teams that use Given-When-Then but do not engage with the business or Product Owner.
- Retrospectives where people are criticised for raising issues.
- “Agile projects” with fixed scope, fixed budget and fixed timescales that have been negotiated in a dark room by people not involved in the delivery that does not allow for customer collaboration.
- Agile practices imposed on teams as “Best” practice.
Around 2010, executives in organisations across the world woke up to the promise of Agile. They noticed that teams adopting Agile were more effective than teams following traditional methods. They mandated the use of Agile because they wanted results. The results they wanted were those delivered by teams that adopted the values and principles, and not the practices and tools. Teams were not successful because they adopted Given-When-Then, they were successful because the customers and business subject matter experts were communicating effectively with developers. Teams were not successful because they adopted Jira but because they were self organising, collaborating and acting with self discipline. The results came from adopting the Principles and Values. The practices and tools were incidental and often ditched by Agile Practitioners in favour of a home grown approach that better fit the context.
In 2010, the number of Agile Practitioners was growing, but not growing as fast as demand required. This lead to a vacuum. The traditional waterfall service integrator and snake oil salesmen stepped into the vacuum and created the “Agile Industrial Complex” as Dan Mezick calls it.. “Doing it” is no longer a criteria that matters, with thought leaders promoting ideas they just made up and never tried. Self Organisation and Frequent Releases of Value are optional, to be tolerated at best. The Agile Industrial Complex sees Agile as business as usual, but with stand ups and stickies.
I see the need for a new movement, a movement that focuses on the Agile Values and Principles. Practices and Tools relegated to examples of how to implement those values and principles. A movement where only those who are “Doing It” are allowed on stage, and theorists and marketers are allowed to suggest hypotheses but not allowed to profess something as good until is properly tested in all contexts. The name I’m noodling with is “Context”. The “Context” Movement as context is what matters more than anything else.
Why is this so important now? The Agile Industrial Complex (AIC) is destroying the Agile brand that so many Agilistas have worked so hard to create. The AIC is telling clients that they have solutions (Practices and Tools) to the Scaling Agile problem, solutions that have not been tested in all contexts and could lead to major failures. Our clients deserve the Agile based on values and principles that truly delivers results. They deserve better than the roll out of sad grey practices and tools that break when they encountered new contexts that they haven’t been tested in. Our clients deserve to know that the practices and tools they are adopting have failed in certain contexts, and an understanding of the context they failed in so that they can manage the risk properly.
So lets clean ship and adopt integrity as one of our values. Lets write experience reports about the failures as well as the success. Lets acknowledge the real state of Scaled Agile.
Lets create a new community called “Context” based on the principles and values of Agile.
Lets deliver the value that our clients deserve and show them by example the difference between context and the Agile Industrial Complex. Lets show what it means to be really Agile.
- Deliver Value
- Reduce Lead Time
- Sustainable Quality
- Manage Risk
- HAVE FUN!
Please leave a comment regardless of whether you agree or you think I’m smoking crack.