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Agile Does Damage

03/20/2013 by 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.