Agile Horror Stories: Trick or Treat

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I love Halloween. Science may say that autumn starts September 20-something (depending on the year), but in North Carolina the temperatures don’t really get cool until around Halloween, along with the leaves changing and the total Fall experience. I am also a sucker for cheap candy and crazy costumes. When I was young, I loved dressing up and pretending I was someone else for the day. In our modern world, people don’t need to wait for Halloween to wear costumes. Cosplay is well-loved, and practiced by a fairly large community. Other people wear costumes in a less positive, fun-loving way. They aren’t being honest with themselves and are just pretending.

Esse quam videri. To be rather than to seem.


Differences Between agile and Agile


Before I start, for the sake of this blog, I will use “agile” when referring to the Smarties and “Agile” when referring to the Dum Dums (yes, like the candy).

This Halloween, I want to challenge all my agile friends to hold up a mirror to the various organizations where they work. I want to hold a mirror up too. Stop pretending. Stop wearing the Agile costume. Stop making excuses for why your company needs to have its own Agile “flavor” without ever trying to practice true agile. Stop adding the word Agile in front of everything to make it seem like agility is the magic bullet that will solve every problem a business faces, without any additional required pain. Take off the mask and BE agile.

Are you new to the idea of agile? Never heard of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development? It turns out that the values and principles in the manifesto work for more than just software development. It contains ideas around valuing people over processes, delivering stuff that works over loads of documentation, collaborating with customers over negotiating contracts, and responding to change over sticking to the plan no matter what. That doesn’t mean that processes, documentation, contracts, and plans have no value. They just aren’t the most important thing.

If you aren’t new to agile, you’re probably aware that there are other essential ideas of agility, like transparency, inspection, adaptation, courage, commitment, and respect. The list goes on from there. All parts of a mindset that some guys, almost 20 years ago, titled Agile.


Wearing the Agile Costume


So what does it look like to “wear the Agile costume? ”Well, wearing the costume is following some sort of framework (Scrum, Kanban, XP, etc.) while trying to play political games within the organization to maintain control over the little kingdom you’ve built. It’s about maintaining the silos that have risen over time, rather than doing what is best for the teams, enhancing their ability to deliver (early and continuously) working software that delights the customer.

Sometimes teams need to experiment on new ways of doing things, and the experiments will fail. Learn from the failure by taking time to reflect and incorporate what’s been gained into the next iteration. They don’t need anyone outside the team to put additional pressure on them because the experiment failed. Failure (especially early on) is good.

Let’s be honest. Removing the mask can be painful. Some in the organization will fight their hardest to remain cloaked, hidden behind the mask of false agility, because they don’t want to admit or own the faults in what they’re doing. Until you go through that pain and remove those masks, the teams will remain stifled. On the other hand, if you take off the mask and focus your energies on giving teams the environment and support they need, and then build projects around them, they will get the job done.

Here’s the main point, when you wear the mask of Agility, you’re just going through the motions.


The agile Mindset: Don't just go through the motions!


Performing the actions prescribed in an Agile framework doesn’t make the team agile, it’s the WHY behind their actions that encompasses true agility (or not). I have worked with several teams that believed they were agile because they had a daily standup (which was more of a daily status meeting), backlog refinement (where the team lead informed the team how the work would be done and what the estimate was), sprint planning (where management expected the team to fill up every hour of every persons sprint, because they believed they had to manage the teams time), a sprint review (that the customer or major stakeholder didn’t attend), and a retrospective (where team members were told they were wrong for feeling the way they did about the dysfunctions they were experiencing). Stop pretending.

This Halloween, let’s take off the Agile mask and actually work on delivering value to our customers and our companies, using an agile mindset. Let’s trust the teams that are working on creating amazing new products. Let’s break down the silos and work together toward the same goals. Let’s stop pretending, and start being agile.

Happy Halloween!

Esse quam videri,



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