Why corporate companies suck at agile

“Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.” – Tyler Durden

Why corporate companies suck at agileIt is amazing that 16 years after the agile manifesto came to life that many corporate software environments still talk about ‘Agile Transformation’. Agile has become like a religion where everyone in corporations feverishly beats their breasts and shouts at the top of their voices for all to hear about how great Agile is and how totally on board they are with it. For many business professionals, it has even become a career risk not to buy into the virtues of Agile.

For those paying close attention, you will notice that when corporate environments talk about agile development, (like the paragraph above) they tend to talk about it in capitalized noun form. Agile development has been reduced in substance and is simply seen as a process or framework that needs to be adopted. It is seen as a magic bullet that is finally going to solve the inefficiencies in those pesky technology departments that just don’t get the subtleties of high-brow business folk’s needs.

The problem is that this capitalized noun Agile mindsets miss the point completely. In the immortal words of Tyler Durden, ‘sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken’. Similarly taking an agile (read nimble) process/methodology and following its steps to the tee without really understanding its purpose does not make you an agile organization. It was never about process or framework.

Agile is an adjective, it describes a culture and mindset. A desire to be adaptable, collaborative, lean and evolutionary. Agile is about early feedback loops, about failing early and fast. It is about constantly reflecting on yourself and coming up with experiments to improve things. It is about partnering with your client and involving them in the development process.

It is about transparency and externalizing risk at all times. It’s about building products lean and incrementally. It is about accepting that you don’t have all the answers up front and using natural ways of working to figure them out just in time when they are needed.

If these words resonate with you I implore you to go read the agile manifesto again and to start focusing on the values and principles behind agile development instead of fixating on the process. Be mindful of how people become fundamentalists about something they do not even truly understand in the first place.

We need to stop the army of Scrum Alliance trained ‘Agilists’ that parrot fashion recites SCRUM methodology to you claiming to be the answer to your waterfall world.

But the real issue is that corporations are not set up to be agile. Corporations are built to optimize control and stability. They are built to make money by minimizing risks and maximizing profits. They are built to have long-term plans and to execute them. They are built to have policies and procedures in place to ensure consistency.

All of these things are anti-agile. Agile is about embracing change and uncertainty. It is about experimentation and learning. It is about short-term goals and flexibility. It is about trust and collaboration.

In order for corporations to truly embrace agile, they need to fundamentally change the way they operate. They need to start valuing adaptability and learning over control and stability. They need to start prioritizing experimentation and innovation over minimizing risks and maximizing profits. They need to start focusing on adaptable goals and flexibility over long-term plans and control. They need to start building trust and collaboration over policies and procedures.

This is no small task. It requires a complete shift in mindset and culture. It requires senior leaders to lead by example and to truly understand the nature of the beast.

One Comment

  1. Great stuff here. Thanks for sharing! I was at Agile Orlando this past month… I hate the cultish feeling of the ‘open-space technology’ conferences, but the breakout sessions usually prove to be pretty insightful. Looking forward to checking out your other posts.

    Liked by 1 person


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