In the last two articles, we discussed, how Agile might be at risk and the crucial role of Agile Coaches in transformation projects. Both Agile and the role of Agile Coaches are often misunderstood. This article describes 10 of the most common Agile misconceptions.
No. 1: Agile is a methodology, framework or process
In our conversations, Agile is often used interchangeable with Scrum and as an opposite of Waterfall. Scrum describes a framework, whereas Waterfall describes a project management process. Both comparisons are simply wrong. We describe Scrum, as well as Waterfall, through different elements on what or even how to do things. It defines certain events/meetings, tools or documents, you need to have. Agile does not say anything about it. The definition of the Agile Manifesto: a set of 4 values and 12 principles to support individuals in making sense of complex environments. Scrum and Waterfall are describing what to do. Agile is not.
No. 2: Agile makes you automatically faster
Organizations often want to become Agile because they feel they need to be faster in their market. The competitors or even their own stakeholders are pushing for complete solutions. That pressure pushes organizations to do things faster. Therefore, they are looking at Agile for the solution. Theoretically, it is not wrong: Agile can support to develop products faster.
However, if you change your way of working into an Agile way of working, you initially will be slower as you focus more on Effectiveness: You will make better decisions in the beginning. Through less re-work or wasted time on non-valuable work, you then in the end will become faster. But this is a consequence, not a goal of Agile.
No. 3: Agile has no hierarchies
Nowhere in the Agile Manifesto does it mention anything about managers, leaders or other forms of hierarchies. Agile is not about managing or leading people. Agile does not define how you have to structure your organization. And Agile can have managers, leaders, middle management, a C-level, etc. Agile is a team-approach; not an organizational approach. This article from Niels Pfläging covers, how to approach organizational structures in the 21st century.
However, as Agile requires self-organizing teams through decentralized decision-making, it does imply, that the form, how we manage our people might need to change. It is therefore an Agile misconception to just abolish hierarchies; instead, it is about managing or leading people differently.
No 4: Agile is anarchy
Agile promotes self-organizations and suggests to give more control to the teams (decentralize decision-making). However, organizations often believe, that this would lead into anarchy and everybody would do what they want.
But as Niels Pflaeging pointed out: The opposite of authority is not anarchy, but democracy. Similar as in a working democracy, in a working agile environment, teams will make decisions as a group of people following a greater good – a valuable service or product. A democracy still has laws; an agile organization without any rules or agreements would not work either. The difference from command & control to more agile, is how the rules and agreements come into effect. The Manager does not assume a controlling, but rather a facilitating, position.
No 5: Agile does not require to document
The infamous sentence “Working Software over comprehensive” documentation has enraged developers and manages since the inception of the Agile Manifesto. It is unfortunately taken as the excuse why teams do not want to document. This sentence is then the statement, which seem to invalidate the Manifesto as a whole. But nowhere in the Manifesto does it say not to document at all. In fact, to enable fully working feedback cycles, a transparent documentation might be one of the keys to success.
The same as with many misconceptions here, Agile is not about telling you what to do differently; it is about how we look at things. The Agile Manifesto criticizes, that we too often spend too much time on documentation instead of just building the software: SRS, SDS, Roadmaps, even big Product Backlogs before the first line of code does express a high confidence in knowing what will be happening in the future and exactly what the customer needs. As Agile is based on complexity theory, it implies that this is impossible. Instead, we should start building some software as soon as possible. Run experiments, get feedback from users, and then document those learnings and consequences.
No 6: Agile is not for everyone
We often hear the following: It requires a certain mindset to be Agile, and some people prefer authority and do not want to take responsibility. But according to System Thinking, individuals behave based on the adaptation and dynamics of said system. A system is not something, which is designed or built, but is formed based on many different factors in and around the system. The behaviour of people in a system might be because of enforced and imposed rules of such a system, not because of the mindset.
Example: Many companies want more teamwork and initiative of the people. But eventually, the performance management system is set up, that each person has their own individual goals, bonus and incentives. Why working as a team, if my individual goal is different of that of my team mate.
No 7: Agile is something for IT
Toyota, Morning Star, Handelsbanken (until recently), dm drogeriemarkt, Whole Food, Southwest Airlines, buurtzorg – all are non-IT companies, which are using some of Agile principles in their organization and are highly successful. It is one of the Agile misconceptions, that you need to use the word Agile to be Agile.
No 8: Agile is new wine in old bottles
There is actually truth to that: Agile is not something entirely new or innovative. It is standing on the shoulder of giants. However, through the mindset of constantly looking out for ways to improve things and increase the values of the service and product, Agile is organic and adapting. And every Agile structure is different. Saying, that you do not see anything, that you can improve because you are already Agile since decades, is actually Anti-Agile.
No 9. Agile is a state, we need to achieve
Agile is about constant improvement and sense-making in organizations, not about following a framework. When we enable people to think differently about their work constantly, then they constantly look to improve their agile. Therefore, Agile is a journey, not a state to achieve.
No 10: In Agile, we have to work entirely differently
Most of the time, when we look to improving the way of working, we will probably work differently, but not necessarily always. It is about checking, how you work and how you might be able to change. It can be a conscious decision to not change your way of working comprehensively, but rather only small changes to become more effective. Important is the constant feedback cycle on the way you work.
As mentioned already before, organizations have the so-called agile-fatigueness. That is why often people come up with arguments, why Agile is not their priority. Interestingly, nearly every time, they do that, the argument is one of the 10 Agile misconceptions above.
Are you currently in the middle of an Agile transformation or considering doing one? Contact us, and we can support you in this change management initiative.