Agile arrogance: Part 1, introduction

Photo by 5th Luna Are Agile enthusiasts the saviours of modern business? Or are we just a bunch of zealots who are good at something niche, and should be kept doing just that? [*]

Like many of my peers, some time ago I found a wonderful way of delivering software, turning an experience that was mostly characterised by failure into one that was mostly characterised by success. And like many of my peers I found it a revelation, to the extent that I starting applying some of its principles to other parts of my life. For example, today I am very aware of “sufficiency”, and will seek only the minimum of planning before embarking on some domestic adventure.

But I also see lots of enthusiastic Agile people demanding that its principles be adopted by businesses as a whole. They are often complaining that their organisation’s problems could be fixed if only Agile techniques would be adopted — if only people would listen to them. On the more business-facing side is Steve Denning, who says Agile is “the best kept management secret on the planet” and that “Scrum Is A Major Management Discovery”. Less business-facing are the many developers I meet who look around their organisation, see its failings, and see the solution as being stand-up meetings, index cards, and burn-down charts. These people see the success of Lonely Planet’s legal team using kanban and seek to apply the same techniques to their colleagues’ teams.

We technologists undoubtedly do have much more to offer our organisations than mere technology. But is Agile the answer to our business problems? Is it not just arrogance to think that our companies can be saved if only other people acted more like us?

Over the next few articles I want to explore this issue more.

[*] Or is that a false dichotomy provided just to make a compelling opening? The truth, of course, may lie between the two extremes.

5 thoughts on “Agile arrogance: Part 1, introduction

  1. Nigel and I clearly believe that these approaches can be applied far beyond IT. A core realisation though is that the traditional Agile software dev patterns don’t work for everyone. Focus on finding the right bits of Lean, or Systems Thinking or Agile for each team or problem. Always start with WHY ? What problem do you need to solve for that team ? and start simple. There are hundreds of possible habits and techniques a team can use, most only need 5 to get 80% of the benefit.

  2. Arrogance and profiteering yes. That’s all agile has been and ever was. All the people that want to spread it, be it in IT or beyond, are all in it for the money Denning et al….he sells books on it right?

    Almost all salesmen are liars, and all agile coaches are salesmen. What that tells us should be obvious. It is time to move beyond agile


  3. Unfortunately PostAgilist is right, there are a good too many Agile consultancies selling snake oil, rigid process and a cookie cutter approach. Of course this has been true of nearly any methodology over the years, especially the ones coined by the big consultancies as their own proprietary approach.

    Demming (not Denning) was long dead before the ‘Agile’ movement started and published his most important books in his 80s – I doubt a grab for cash (true of 99.9% of authors). So if it’s time to move beyond Agile, what’s the alternative you suggest ?

    The essence of a true Agile / Lean approach is mostly common sense, human decency and a strong sense of purpose about why you’re doing what you are – it pops up with a new name or brand each decade or two but the core is always the same.

  4. Yes well as far as what I recommend — if you go to my web page and click “my approach” that’s my general MO right there…

    What’s especially ironic about agile/scrum is how prescrptive it is — they refuse to go by the “waterfall” book but they want everyone to slavishly adhere to their book


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