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Conservatives, Liberals, and Agilists

14 March 2016

Michael McCalla
Achieving Agility

Lately I have been struggling with Agile misperceptions that exist in today's workplace. Having thought about it at length, I have concluded that people within an organization that is undergoing an Agile adoption typically fall into one of three groups. Given that it is an election year, I have fittingly labeled these groups Agilists, liberals, and conservatives. As in "real life," these groups often clash.


Agilists get it! They have an open mind and are willing to try something new. Agilists understand that Agile is more than frameworks and technical practices. They are privy to its principles and values and strive to increase their knowledge of the subject. Their approach is value driven, and they are always challenging constraints that prevent the continuous flow of value to the customer. They act as change agents in their respective organizations, promoting transparency, collaboration, empowerment, and quality. Agilists are hard to come by in companies just starting on their Agile journey. However, the volume of Agilists continues to steadily increase in all areas across an organization.


Liberals are the ones who often give Agile a bad name. They are under the impression that Agile means no planning or governance, and they have the right to break all the rules. They are fit for a Lean start-up rather than a large enterprise. In large enterprises, they are often questioning the organization's "willingness" to adopt Agile because the organization's long-standing standards and processes remain firmly intact.

Liberals need to be educated about the fact that Agile does not necessarily mean faster; instead, it means "sooner." Operating in an Agile environment does not give license to accrue technical debt and release defects into production. Liberals need to be coached that quality is nonnegotiable and is an underlying linchpin of Agile delivery. Actually, during the early stages of Agile adoption, there is high likelihood that productivity will initially decrease because of the commitment to quality and clean code. There is a learning curve involved when teams adopt new tools and practices, such as continuous integration, unit testing, and the delivery of thin vertical slices.

Liberals struggle with the concepts of high quality and code refactoring. They see them as a threat to value delivery because they slow down the delivery cycle, which is a fair point. However, what they don't grasp is that the up-front investment in quality is the catalyst that enables the team to maintain a continuous delivery of value in the future. Fewer defects and less technical debt will allow the team to focus on delivering new features to the business and not constantly wasting time fixing bugs.


Conservatives are the folks who protect their turf and are loyal to a traditional culture. Conservatives are set in their ways and not interested in change. They will most likely resist Agile. Typically, people in roles such as project managers, quality assurance, and architecture are those who fall within this group. The words empowerment, self-organization, and flexibility tend to make them cringe.

Conservatives need to be coached slowly. They will not change overnight. Project managers need to know that although there is no project manager role in Scrum, their skill set makes them suitable to be a potential ScrumMaster or product owner. Every team needs someone who keeps their eye on the road and considers the bigger picture when making decisions.

Architecture is emergent within an Agile environment, but that does not mean architects do not have a role. I won't argue that the best teams have control over their infrastructure, platform decisions, and design. However, this is difficult to obtain in an enterprise environment. Rather, architects should be choosing what platforms their organizations will implement to fuel the different needs of the business. Architects should also be chairing development communities of practice in order to educate, promote best practices, and mentor others.

Historically, the word fast had a negative connotation in software delivery. The vision that comes to mind is a manager demanding that the team deliver faster because their delivery date is looming. The pressure inevitably results in a vast amount of technical debt and poor quality. Unfortunately, Agile is often associated with "faster delivery," and that is one of the main reasons that people from the Quality Assurance department often see it as a threat to quality. However, Agile practitioners know that couldn't be furthest from the truth.

Agile teams emphasize quality from the start and adhere to quality assurance governance by incorporating organizational testing standards into their Definition of Done. Teams that have historically ignored quality often have a backlog of defects that suppresses their velocity and prevents them from delivering new features. Companies that want to be Agile must be prepared to invest in the tools and technical practices that enable continuous delivery, such as continuous integration, automated testing, and DevOps.

Don't forget to vote, and cheers that someday Agilists will take over!

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.

Article Rating

Current rating: 4.9 (7 ratings)


Stefan Wolpers, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 4/7/2016 11:13:19 AM
Michael, I referring to your post in mine on "Agile Micromanagement in the Era of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose", see

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