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Agile Does Damage

20 March 2013

Erwin Verweij

Agile can inflict a lot of irreversible damage to companies and teams and, in most cases, it cannot be repaired. I sometimes encounter companies that have implemented a form of Agile. Sometimes they use Scrum or Kanban, and on other occasions they only use a few things from these Agile work models. But no matter at what level they applied it, damage is happening.

Does that mean that starting to use an Agile way of thinking is harmful for the business? In a way yes — but rest assured, it depends on what perspective you use to look at it. You must realize one thing: As soon as you allow it, things are going to change. People are going to feel more confident taking matters into their own hands. Elaborate planning is thrown out of the window. Time management must change. Sales people will have to use a different strategy in selling. And management has the feeling it's losing control (we all know that they gain more, but that's a different story). It's safe to say that a lot of things are transformed.

At a party recently, I was asked by someone whose business was not yet following Agile if I would go back to the old ways. I answered by simply relaying his question to a few people in the room who already used Scrum. "What would you do if your company decided to quit using Scrum?" I asked them. "I would resign!" was an immediate and honest answer. "No way in hell!" said another, actually spilling his beer. (Their responses persuaded the listener.) Imagine further what would happen if one day a fresh and eager manager walked into your Agile company and decided to do things the old way. It wouldn't work. A lot of people would get upset and probably resist the reverse change. A few would start looking for new jobs, and overall motivation would plummet to an all-time low.

Once Agile is lodged within people's mind-set, and they make your company what it is, you have applied irreversible "damage." You can see this as positive damage, but nevertheless it is just that. Why do I use this negative word? That's very simple: Think of what would happen if you didn't implement it all the way. If you just took on some Agile practices. Then you'd be stuck in the middle. Going back would be be dangerous, so the only way would be to move forward. Once you've made the incision, you have to go through with the entire procedure.

Starting Agile isn't just a fling, a whim of the moment. It is serious stuff that does hurt and makes changes. It does damage to the old way of working. And it is absolutely very demanding in terms of getting it to work properly. If you want to reverse it, watch out, because it bites back. So take it seriously, and apply it well and in great measure. Make use of a good ScrumMaster or Agile coach and get everyone involved.

What was Shakespeare's line — "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war." Every time I walk into a new company that's just beginning to work with Scrum or Kanban, I hear a little barking and growling in the back of my mind. A sweet little puppy is preparing to show its teeth.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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Mudduluru Gajendra Varma, CSM, 3/20/2013 3:01:42 AM
very nice article. Once we start using agile effectively, will not come back to the old methods.
Mark Palmer, CTC,CSP,CSM,CSPO, 3/20/2013 1:10:19 PM
So much truth and wisdom here. Thanks for the great read! #tweeted
Rex Lester, CSM, 3/21/2013 3:18:50 AM
Maybe we should use the term Agile Zombie Organisation. They haven't completed enough transition activities to benefit from Agile, but they go through the motions. The transition to Scrum needs to be managed responsibly adapting continuously to maintain momentum. And remember its never done just WIP
Steve Clymer, CSP,CSM, 3/25/2013 5:08:29 AM
I have seen this in more than one large organisation where the word agile is changed to mean something I donΓÇÖt recognise. I heard a very senior member of staff say that agile was about moving through the existing waterfall processes, but doing so quickly meant this was agile. It was his genuine belief that Agility would be achieved by just following the official organisational processes quicker than before.

My view is that people see the attraction of a different approach, they read something on the internet, form an idea of what it is and then, with the best intentions, implement the parts they can. However, the full required change does not occur and the projects still fail to deliver. This then means the Agile brand is then damaged. Cynicism creeps in and the senior staff, describing a lack of visibility or lack of control, move to an even more entrenched waterfall view.

I have found many people in large organisations think that Agile is simply a new set of words used to describe the existing ways of working. The words donΓÇÖt matter, itΓÇÖs the new way of working that really matters. ΓÇô thatΓÇÖs what makes implementing agile so challenging and exciting.
Alan Jackson, CSM, 3/25/2013 6:15:25 PM
This is similar to using Consensus Decision Making. If you implement it you really want to do it right. But once you've successfully empowered your organisation no-one ever wants to go back... or can imagine working in a less empowered way.

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