Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sorry, Agilists - your frameworks are a problem!

It’s 2019, a full generation since the Manifesto for Agile Software Development was compiled - and although “Agile” has become the norm, the Agile Community isn’t really going anywhere: What we see is a horde of trainers and consultants (nowadays called “coaches”) claiming that they have already found this “better way” - which can make us wonder: are the agile frameworks really better, and: compared to what? 

This article is a provocation. When I address “You”, that’s an oversimplification which does not apply to everyone in the agile community, and I am aware that there are indeed a few (unfortunately rare) exceptions that this article doesn’t address. As the old joke goes, “It’s 99.9% of lawyers that give the rest a bad name.” Is the Agile community any different? Should you think that any of my provocations below are made from ignorance or that the claims I have blatantly put in “Your” mouth are indeed true, you’re exacerbating the problem!

I won’t discriminate between the different frameworks out there and simply refer to “Your Agile Framework”. Feel free to insert your favorite flavour - my claims don’t change. The intent of this article is to highlight principles and not specifics of any one framework, otherwise this would be a book rather than a blog post. I have caught some assertions about your Agile Framework and propose a plausible counter hypothesis for each. Think about it!

1 - Your Agile Framework is missing the point

There’s so much more to running a successful business than your Agile Framework accounts for. Your Agile Framework doesn’t change anything in the big picture. Indeed, with increasing popularity, your Agile Framework is becoming a bigger problem!
You’re talking a lot about systems thinking, yet fail to realize that introducing a point-based structural change like your Agile Framework is ineffective. Systems thinking goes much further than structure and process!
Without a deep understanding of complex adaptive systems, you are of no help.

Your Agile Framework is not reliable.

You claim: “The utility of the Agile Framework is proven daily.”

People implement your Agile Framework perfectly and see no difference. Many use your Agile Framework exactly as it is described - and fail!
People who know what they’re doing and not using your Agile Framework will do better than those who don’t know what they’re doing and using your Agile Framework.

You selectively cherry-pick the few cases where people happened to both know what they’re doing and used your Agile Framework, then claim that this is proof that your Agile Framework is useful. This is just a placebo effect.

Your Agile Framework doesn’t lead to success.

You claim: “If you use the Agile Framework correctly, you will succeed” - and: “In all cases where people didn’t succeed, they didn’t use the Agile Framework correctly.”

Smart people working on great products fail miserably while using your Agile Framework exactly as intended. Even if you yourself succeeded repeatedly with your Agile Framework, your next endeavour could be your worst failure ever - and there’s nothing your Agile Framework will change about it!

Your Agile Framework doesn’t even contribute to success.

You claim: “The Agile Framework is being used for all kinds of work on all kinds of products and in all kinds of industries.”

Sorry, this has to be: “Blue shirts are being used for all kinds of work on all kinds of products and in all kinds of industries.” - what a heap of baloney!
There is no causal link between using your Agile Framework and success in any kind of work, in no industry. There’s not even a hint of a correlation. Any suggestion to the contrary relies on wishful thinking and confirmation bias.

Your Agile Framework might improve nothing.

You claim: “People who use the Agile Framework are more likely to succeed.”

Your Agile Framework is not better than what organizations that relentlessly Inspect and Adapt are already doing. While your Agile Framework may be a way to frame your problems differently, if you have no idea how to solve them, you will remain stuck. And if you don’t know how to structure your problems, your Agile Framework won’t even help there!

Your Agile Framework doesn’t deliver more value.

You claim: “The Agile Framework increases the value delivered.”

Any halfway decent Product Manager doesn’t need your Agile Framework to deliver maximum value. If organizations have no competent product management, your Agile Framework doesn’t help, either. What your Agile Framework has to say about determining Value is infantile, ignorant of the vast bodies of knowledge about value determination that are already available.

Your Agile Framework won’t make anything faster.

You claim: “The Agile Framework speeds up the delivery of value.”

It’s possible to streamline delivery without using your Agile Framework, and even people using your Agile Framework as prescribed may have horrible Time-to-Market. Your Agile Framework doesn’t replace a thorough Lead Time Analysis with consequential removal of inventory waste. An organization that has already optimized their delivery process will not become any faster by adopting your Agile Framework.

Your Agile Framework doesn’t increase customer satisfaction.

You claim: “The Agile Framework improves customer satisfaction.”

The standards defined in your Agile Framework you might actually cause a decrease in customer interactions in highly customer-centric environments. Are you even aware that your Agile Framework was explicitly designed to shield developers from customers? Your Agile Framework provides a mantle that can be used to reduce customer transparency and decrease the customer’s trust in your development.

Your Agile Framework itself isn't agile.

You claim: “The Agile Framework enhances the team’s flexibility”

Your Agile Framework relies on dogmatic rules that can’t be bent or violated. You will even go as far as claiming that breaking these rules is the cause for failure, when breaking these rules may indeed be maximizing the odds of succeeding. Those who understand the rules of your Agile Framework don’t need them - and vice versa. Your framework does very little to remedy this situation, so a vast majority of people use your Agile Framework without understanding what they’re even doing.

Your Agile Framework doesn’t reduce IT cost.

You claim: “The Agile Framework reduces costs.”

Unless you plan on firing people, IT cost will not go down. In all likelihood, your Agile Framework will require a significantly increased IT budget!
A developer’s paycheck won’t magically decrease by using your Agile Framework.
Servers and infrastructure cost also won’t go down because of your Agile Framework, either. As agile ways of working spread, additional hardware - and therefore, additional cost, becomes inevitable.
And if there’s no bucket for coaching or training, your Agile Framework will fail.

Your Agile Framework isn’t worth investing into.

You claim: “The Agile Framework investment will pay for itself.”

There are better ways to invest the money than into your Agile Framework. You may say that the investment into training or consulting services will be a positive business case, but wouldn’t be willing to operate on a profit share model. You well know that you’d work for free if you got paid according to the tangible benefits generated by your Agile Framework.

2 - Your Agile Framework is a threat!

The Manifesto for Agile Software Development was written by people who were seeking for “better ways” for software development, yet what people have turned it into is a cultic religion that spreads like rabies across the world. It benefits a select few on top of the food chain, while exploiting and victimizing hordes of noble truth seekers who aren’t in it for the money, but for a better world.
Your Agile Framework damages individuals, endangering organizations and impedes the progress of society!

Your Agile Framework exploits a predicament.

You claim: “The Agile Framework should be introduced enterprise-wide.”

The importance of software in business increases daily. Managers who find themselves missing a way to reliably succeed in this domain will grasp for straws. In their ignorance, they turn to anyone who promises to increase their odds of succeeding. Just like the quacks who sell miracle pills to make a quick buck out of other people’s predicament, you market your Agile Framework as though it solved this problem. Once the special effects show is over, the client lost precious time and money to the quack, while the real problem never got addressed.
Such exploitation is banned in socially advanced societies, because it replaces choices from free will with the imposition of severe harm.

Your Agile Framework equivocates software development and business development.

You claim: “The Agile Framework enables Business Agility.”

Your Agile Framework doesn’t even address any business challenges in a meaningful way. You don’t even realize that your Agile Framework wasn’t designed in an attempt to address business challenges - it was designed to help people develop software better. In management, the idea of “agile enterprise” has an entirely different meaning than in IT, and you play on this equivocation fallacy to increase the audience for your Agile Framework. Assuming that your Agile Framework can be equally used in areas it was never meant for is horrible advice.

Your Agile Framework is a strategic nightmare.

You claim: “The Agile Framework keeps all the work in a prioritized backlog”

Your Agile Framework operates with a myopic and limited understanding of importance. Urgency trumps foresight. Your Agile Framework's focus on short-term product value in the next Increment undermines and damages strategic enterprise development. Your ignorance in dealing with market forces pushes your product - and your company - to the verge of extinction.

Your Agile Framework breeds mediocrity.

You claim: “The Agile Framework treats everyone equal”

Progress isn’t made by making everyone equal - it’s made by bringing forth the talent in bright people. Your Agile Frameworks’ promotion of collaboration has turned into a disdain for individualism. “Swarm Intelligence” is just a euphemism for “groupthink” - where radical, innovative ideas have no place and “vastly different” is considered a threat, not an opportunity.
What really brought society forward were always the people who just didn’t fit in. Outsiders like Alan Turing would have no place in the society you promote. Your Agile Framework would have lost the British World War II - aren’t we glad they didn’t know about it yet?

Your Agile Framework impedes learning.

You claim: “The Agile Framework broadens horizons.”

Your Agile Framework is limiting your horizon. It ignores a vast ocean of available knowledge. You are happy to float in your little bubble where the easy answer for every question is, “You have to find out”, although the research has already been done outside your bubble. Hence, you’re going around in circles, re-inventing the wheel. That’s also why you turn people into celebrities who have just “discovered” things that people outside your Agile Framework Community have already understood, published and applied decades ago.

Your Agile Framework Community is an Echo Chamber.

You claim: “We have a vast community for learning from others.”

You have chosen to put yourself into an echo chamber where you constantly get bombarded with reaffirming messages. You enjoy hearing yet another person affirming what you already know. You limit your professional interactions to supporters of your Agile Framework. People who disagree with your perspective are no longer welcome. You stigmatize and label dissent as “unenlightened” and use terms like, “not teachable” or “not coachable” and attribute this to an “unwillingness to learn”.
You can’t entertaining the thought that you could be wrong, and that makes you totalitarian!

Your Agile Framework exploits problems without fixing them.

You claim: “Certified Practitioners are an advantage for companies”

Hordes of Agile Framework certification holders suggest to companies that the certificates are important. Companies can’t discern whether people who hold that certificate know what they’re talking about. Certificate holders think they know what they’re talking about, although many of them will cause more harm than help. And uncertified practitioners, although highly adept, are coerced to waste time and money on a meaningless certificate to avoid being sorted out by automatic filters.

Your Agile Framework operates on a ponzi scheme.

You claim: “The Agile Framework creates a better world.”

Your Agile Framework exhibits all the signs of a ponzi scheme with an immutable hierarchy that has only one purpose: provide easy money and reputation to those at the top.
You have the founders, you have the trainers, you have a mass of certified people - and uncertified practitioners. Everyone is welcome to become a paying member, but only those who will help those already in the scheme earn more money are welcome to rise in rank. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) keeps people paying those subscription fees, although the vast majority of certified people gain no benefit in return. And no, a monthly newsletter doesn’t count - their work, life or understanding doesn’t improve.

Your Agile Framework blocks actual progress.

You claim: “The Agile Framework dissolves hierarchies.”

If you want to make progress in the hierarchy of your Agile Framework, you’d better be a sycophant who praises every word of those whose approval is required for promotion. You won’t make progress by innovating or trying to improve things. It’s not desired, because it would reveal the incompetence of those above you. Improvements must always come from the top. And the longer your Agile Framework hierarchy is established, the less significant the changes within your Agile Framework become. Do you really believe that you have already reached the peak of human potential?

3 - You can’t refute my claims

Agilists don’t seem to get that there is, at best, very weak evidence for their claims. There is no sound chain of reasoning to bring us from what you believe to what is actually happening.
I can hear you crying foul now, because there’s a plethora of success stories, many even written by organizations and/or individuals that adopted your Agile Framework. All of this is fallacious.

Your Agile Framework hurls us back to the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, life worked like this: You tried something, and if you observe something even remotely related to a positive result, you could claim that the action caused the effect.
For example, some wise person might claim that by following a certain medical treatment, we can cure some sickness. Since my neighbor did it and got better, I would accept that treatment as the cure. Today, we call this “confirmation bias”, and have long since rejected the notion.

Your Agile Framework hurls us right back to the Middle Ages: People claim that by observing the rules of your Agile Framework strictly, key strategic problems would get solved. And since it allegedly worked for the neighbor, the framework must be the cure. Is that even possible, though?

What brought us out of the Middle Ages is science: the relentless, scrupulous attempt to make sense of the world around us. Science relies on testable, verifiable, evidence. We replace fallacious post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning and cognitive biaseses with traceable chains of evidence.

Rational people reject claims contradicted by evidence and have no reason to accept claims without supporting evidence. And your Agile Framework doesn’t meet this standard. It would be irrational to accept your claims.

You don’t have evidence to support your Agile Framework!

Agilists don’t even bother to ponder what constitutes proper evidence. You bask in ignorance and rely on peer pressure to silence dissent. You make bold faced assertions, regurgitate mined quotes, appeal to authorities and spice it up with flawed anecdotes or analogies and think you made your point.
If our legal system would accept such “proof”, you could get convicted of a felony you never committed - fortunately, it doesn’t!

You don’t even use correct syllogisms!

While you see that “When it rains, the street gets wet. The street is wet, therefore it rained” is fallacious, you’re incapable of comprehending why “Performance improved after using our Agile Framework, therefore our Agile Framework improved performance” is a fallacy. And if anyone still doubts, you’ll just follow up with a classic argument from ignorance, "What else should have caused it?" - which isn’t helping your case, either.
You don't know how to make your point with appropriate syllogisms.

You don’t understand how evidence works!

You think that “Company X used this Agile Framework, and Company X is successful” is evidence for the benefits of your Agile Framework, yet you dismiss the idea that “Company Y used the same Agile Framework, Company Y failed miserably” could be evidence that the Agile Framework doesn’t deliver.  “5 is odd, and 5 is a prime number” is not evidence that odd numbers are prime numbers, and “9 is odd, and 9 is not a prime number” is fully sufficient evidence that the claim “odd numbers are prime numbers” is false. Is it a lack of intellectual capacity or integrity that you won’t accept this misuse of evidence?

Your reasoning is terrible!

You propose assertions that you expect others to accept, yet without proof. Indeed - you can’t even prove that the opposite isn’t true and ignore all the evidence pointing elsewhere. If your assertion were true, invalidating my proposed counter hypothesis should be child’s play. Until then, your assertions should be rejected. If you can’t invalidate any of my hypotheses, you’re holding a bottle of snake oil!

You use references that you don’t know!

Your argumentation is spiced up to the brim with fallacious appeals to authority. 

You do not know what Royce actually proposed when you refer to “Waterfall”, you have no idea what vision Taylor had for management. You refer to them in a condescending way,  when indeed they fought on the same side of the battle you claim to be fighting on!

Likewise, you quote Deming without ever having understood which Crisis we have to get out of, you quote Drucker without understanding the Organization of the Future, you quote Senge not even knowing the first four disciplines and you have no qualms to quote Taiichi Ohno without grasping even the main ideas of the Toyota System.

4 - Conclusion

This article is a bombardment of provocations, intended to strongly shake everything you might believe about agility.

I am challenging you for a thorough, profound rebuttal - a task that I believe very few would have the capacity for.

If you don't know how to refute my claims with sound reason and evidence, please go back and reconsider what you are doing.
You may be a part of the problem the Agile Industry is causing.

1 comment:

  1. Thrown down the gauntlet, love it!

    You’ve certainly challenged some sacred cows of agile transformation.

    Frameworks provide structure and this is useful to obtain consensus and alignment, particularly where there is a history of fragmentation and chaos.

    Perhaps one of the most valuable things is ”inspect and adapt” . Not talking about borrowed empiricism (it worked for them so it should work for us). Performed in the local context without the taint of external influencers, it can point the way to improvement.

    On value, I believe companies are misinformed as to cost and results. It’s not that it will cost less, it will likely cost more. The intent, is to deliver highest value sooner, with better quality and cut the waste. Faster, iterative cycles combined with inspect and adapt can yield impressive results sooner, and float up what isn’t working sooner too! In that regard there is a cost saving.

    So frameworks and vested interests in the agile bandwagon aside, there is value in shu ha ri. Paint by numbers to start (framework-style) and adjust to optimize as skills, understand and positive results grow.