Rethinking Agile... for all business?

3 min read

(Sunday rant ahead)

I have just come back from my first Agile Lean Europe 2019 in Porto. As in any other Open Space, there’s no program - the attendees create the agenda for the day. That’s part of what makes them so appealing.

One of the highlights of the event was Alistair Cockburn joining us via streaming. It was insightful and an excellent opportunity to learn from one of the authors of the Agile manifesto.

What struck me the most, yet, was the debate after the streaming, and several conversations I joined there.

Sitting there, surrounded by a lot of coaches, I felt disconnected.

I felt there was a chasm between the opinions exposed to that discussion/debriefing/whatever, and how I see things. I felt so aligned with Cockburn’s views and opinions, but no so much afterward.

The whole thing was about uncovering better ways of developing software

It’s there, right there, in the very first sentence.

In ALE, however, hardly anybody talked about software. Actually, the motto was “Rethink Agile for all business” (hence the post title), so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

Turns out rethinking it for all business means stripping down the “software part” from the manifesto.

Well, to do so, you need to reduce it an abstract the least common multiple parts. What might that be? Well turns out the answer is people and empathy.

Is empathy (or, say, focusing on people) fundamental to agile and extreme programming? To software development in general? Omg, yes.

Is it, in fact, fundamental to any human activity that involves other human beings? Omg, yes.

I mean, c’mon, I could reduce the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth to “people and empathy”.

What is the point, then, in trying to generalize the whole thing to this extent? How is it gonna be actionable?

Agile (is dead)

A while ago, I published a rant about Agile being dead (or not). I reread that post after getting back from Portugal, and I totally stand by what I wrote last October. More than ever, I’d say.

I wrote that the “Agile” label had abandoned developers. It still holds true.

Most software developers I know associate “Agile” with post-its and other pointless meetings (sic). There’s no association with development practices, programming stuff, devops culture. Who’s to blame? Not them, that’s for sure.

You can blame me - I started off on the wrong foot. I focused on processes and tools (over individuals and interactions), and tried to outline plans instead of responding to change. My bad. Didn’t know better. I should’ve.

After some years, I think that Agile boils down to:

  • Focus on delivering value – to the end-user.
  • Keep feedback loops as short as possible – both internally and externally.
  • Have the right tools and the appropriate skills to do so – communication tools, technical skills.

It seems easy, but it’s not. It means better ways of communication, focus on simplicity, software best practices, continuous delivery…

That’s what I like to think the agile mindset (and XP’s, for what it’s worth) is about. This is what Agile is about. This is also it. Coaching agile should mean helping teams achieve those items in the list above.

Sadly, that’s not what was (mostly) discussed during the ALE.

Agile looked like the thing to sell to the upper-level. “Digital transformation”. An imposed tool that rains down upon software development teams.

Agile mindset and XP principles are still valid. I’m not sure, though, the label is worth fighting anymore.

More Jenkins, less Jira.