Agile Slaves?

A friend forwarded me this article – a review of Agile at 10 years on.  The author makes an interesting point.  There appears to be a common thread in that Agile has become the next process, when it was supposed to be freeing of process.  Instead of being agile, companies are “doing Agile.”  I can find blog entries from 2006 that indicate something along the same lines has been anecdotally observed as well – what Stevey calls “Big A” Agile vs “Little a” agile.

So, after reading the first article, I wondered, what would LEAN have to say about this?  On one hand, this is a good thing.  As Stevey’s blog post points out, if everyone seems to do the process poorly, then maybe there’s something wrong with the process.  But, if becoming slavish to Agile has standardized the process, to something that is leaner (not necessarily all the way there), then perhaps that’s a good thing, right?

On the other hand, it doesn’t go far enough.  If people have become slaves of sprints, iterations, stories and index cards and aren’t continuining to improve the process then we have a real problem.  Being a slave to a leaner process is only better insofar as you are still ahead of your competition.  The point of continuous improvement is to compete against perfection, so that there isn’t room for your customers to leapfrog you while you rest on your Agile laurels.

In the end, I’m not sure how I feel about this revelation that people have become slaves to Agile processes like they were slaves to Waterfall.  Perhaps, most importantly, it confirms something that Boehm and Turner wrote in “Balancing Agility and Discipline” which is that, statistically speaking, half of everyone is below average (median technically).  Maybe the illusion is that there are enough people who can really effectively riff on an existing process to make the purist vision of Agile work, and for the rest of us, having something standard that we can slowly improve over the long run is a better choice.

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