Agile – Principles over practice – Part 1
I gave a short presentation in August at the Agile 2014 conference in Orlando titled “Agile – Principles over Practice”. I believe that prioritizing practices over principles is one of the key reasons for Agile failures. In this, and future blogs, I’ll dig a little further into the root cause of Agile failures and touch on avoiding some common pitfalls.
I’ve been in the IT industry for 25 years, and was introduced to the Agile framework nine years ago. For me, Agile was love at first sight. I think the reason I took to Agile so readily was that many of the principles were already part of my Standard Operating Procedure. I valued simplicity, I developed software in iterations so I could get feedback and make course corrections, I preferred communicating face-to-face, and I put my customers and developers in the same room often so they could collaborate and ensure we were on the right path.
What I was doing in my early years wasn’t truly Agile, but the principles I followed – many of which are in line with the Agile principles – allowed me to consistently deliver projects on time, on budget, and with the quality that my customers loved.
Some time back, I consulted with a company that brought me in to work with them on their Agile journey. A couple of their IT leaders told me that they were already Agile. They had all the right roles in place, their ceremonies seemed to be well run, and the artifacts looked clean and up to date – they looked like they had it all together.
But when I asked tough questions and began digging into how they interact with each other, I saw a different picture. There was distrust between IT and the business units because of which there was no real collaboration, almost all their communication was by email for “CYA” purposes, and there was a heavy status reporting burden due to lack of transparency.
The practices all seemed to be there – on the surface it looked like things were running smoothly, but underneath the calm was a broken machine. They were doing all the easy parts of Agile – the practices, but weren’t paying attention to the harder parts of Agile – the principles.
Real Agile transformation is a total culture change. Successful Agile implementation is about establishing a culture that embraces open communication and collaboration between business and technical people across the enterprise. It’s about continuous improvement through inspection and adaption, and a culture of transparency and accountability.
I’ve learned that you can do all the practices perfectly and still fail at Agile. Not paying attention to the principles behind Agile is one of the leading causes of failure. You may see some improvement in your ability to respond to change, and you might even provide working software faster – for a while. But it won’t be too long, though, until the promises of Agile become less evident. Teams struggle to keep up the pace, software doesn’t match user expectations as often, and then Agile is deemed a failure. Some will go back to their old ways – ways that are more comfortable.
Incorporating Agile principles is a harder part of Agile – things like working through communication issues, distrust and lack of accountability. Working with the principles often gets left out because that takes more time and effort than we may want to invest. But it’s almost always the harder things that give us the most benefit. Culture change – the principles… those are the harder parts of Agile.
So what are some of these principles or culture changes that are the harder parts of Agile?
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll elaborate on the harder parts of Agile that are often overlooked – the parts that cause many failures. Stay tuned…