Agile working: What haven't we considered when using these words? Imagine a world where we create value exactly how our customers want it and align our teams to do so effortlessly. Picture products and services that are solely composed of added value. No longer burdened by irrelevant reporting, key figures, and rigid schedules set by others, we would embrace the true essence of Agile - with a capital A. We would be self-determined, wholehearted individuals pouring our passion into value creation. Partnerships would flourish, enriching both ourselves and our surroundings. It would be a magnificent transformation. Agile, baby!
While the concept of Agile is undeniably wonderful - something I personally admire - the practical implementation has proven to be challenging. Nowadays, formalized "Agile methods" or practices dominate many settings, often copied and adopted without thoughtful consideration. This problem stems from a misunderstanding of what Agile truly represents, compounded by a large-scale business model.
From "Agile" to "Agile Methods"
In Germany, the term "Agile" quickly became synonymous with "Agile methods", leading to the emergence of an entire industry dedicated to producing these methods. Unfortunately, this approach often involves implementing these methods through a command and control approach, which goes against the original intention of Agile. The official Scrum Guide, which describes one of the most popular frameworks in the Agile universe, clearly states that using only parts of Scrum does not qualify as true Scrum.
The irony is hard to ignore: Agile methods, which are meant to promote adaptability and flexibility, actually require users to adhere strictly to a set of rules. Anyone who dares to challenge or adapt Agile itself is met with resistance.
Agile companies do not exist
Having attended numerous events, conferences, and webinars on agile methodologies and practices, it seems to be a unanimous consensus that consistently achieving agility at an enterprise level is a rarity, especially in Germany. Even a highly experienced speaker and coach once shared that the highest level of agility he had witnessed was only 80%, and he had yet to come across anything higher.
This revelation unveils the hidden truth about agility: as a product, agile methods often fall short of their promised outcomes. When adoption fails, the blame is often placed on a non-existent "mindset" or incompatible structures. But let's face it, this is essentially a declaration of bankruptcy. How can a product not be adaptable to the user's reality and individual needs, and yet the customers are held responsible for its failure? It's like the agile industry itself refusing to take its own medicine despite being the perfect candidate for it.
Now, I'm not saying that the "mindset" argument is entirely flawed. I do believe that corporate innovation often fails because it is not genuinely desired and is merely used as a facade to impress applicants and business partners. This phenomenon is undoubtedly real and the argument holds validity. However, knowing this and still promoting collections of methods that are destined to fail is simply hypocritical.
A mindset is a hard sell - it's easier with fancy process sketches.
Theory beats practice: the success of Agile gurus
"I yearn for improvement in my work," the employee exclaims. "Read these books, attend these seminars, and utilize these resources," replies the Agile industry. It asserts that simplifying the workplace is a complex endeavor that can only succeed with the guidance of experts. Once again, Agile reveals itself as a product that falls short of its own expectations.
Interestingly, the inventors and pioneers of Agile remain unaffected. On the contrary, Agile methods have become a popular pastime: a paradoxical realm where "Agile gurus" are more renowned and sought after as theorists than as catalysts for real-world change. Each new publication cites its predecessors, references the same utopian success stories ("Morningstar! Buurtzorg! Heiligenfeld!"), and generates excitement for the next framework. The latest book. Or the umpteenth edition of the perpetually similar expert keynote.
Many now question the relevance of these stories to their own context. If rigid adherence to "best practices" is deemed problematic, perhaps agile best practices should also be approached critically and thoughtfully. However, those who develop their own customized solutions tailored to their specific circumstances face ridicule: "That's not Scrum" or "That doesn't align with the original intent of the Agile Manifesto." By the way, this manifesto was drafted in 2001, six years before the debut of the first iPhone. The experts who hold it as gospel would rightly admonish you for dismissing new ideas with reference to a 17-year-old doctrine.
Agile begets Agile: Methods and frameworks as revenue drivers
The allure of Agile fuels an entire industry, promising those who embrace it a place among the Agile elite. One popular example is Management 3.0, a management model that has gained traction in certain countries. Surprisingly, one can become an official "Management 3.0" coach without ever attending a workshop. This license comes at a cost to the coach and is recouped through their own fee-charging seminars.
Agile, as a product, has been cleverly designed in this regard. Many frameworks include a "growth hack" or growth engine, which transforms every user and coach into a lead generator and revenue driver. However, it is the organization behind the framework that ultimately benefits from this arrangement.
The agile industry may not sell us the practicality of agile working; instead, it sells us the idea of a complete transformation. But this remains a fleeting high, as Agile fails to guide us toward this new world. It also does not alleviate the frustration we feel when we return to our everyday working lives after an invigorating workshop. The handouts and worksheets that once guided us toward a better reality quickly gather dust in filing cabinets, serving as a reminder that our attempts to change our reality have once again fallen short.
Agile gurus have achieved cult status.
The Agile Automata: Technology instead of humanity
In today's agile landscape, the focus often shifts from the people who apply the framework to the framework itself. Certificates and licenses are highly sought after, further formalizing and mechanizing Agile. Unfortunately, this shift devalues the importance of the user or implementer. We have seen similar issues in other areas, such as sales departments becoming too focused on sophisticated techniques and arguments rather than engaging in genuine conversations with customers. As someone who has experienced this firsthand, I am committed to unlearning these mechanized behaviors and instead building a customer-centric sales force. It seems that we have also inadvertently created a legion of "Agile automatons" - consultants and coaches who lack personalization and authenticity in their approach to organizations. Agile, once a symbol of flexibility and adaptability, has now become a static system of rules and methods. It is primarily designed by individuals who are detached from the working world itself, making a living as authors and speakers. This situation is reminiscent of Silicon Valley billionaires who amass wealth from the internet but keep their own children away from it. It is a thought-provoking issue that calls for reflection.
Happy as a stock photo: When people become Agile automatons.
Conclusion: real people are more agile than "agile methods"
Our messaging software is designed to be technologically agile, meaning that we prioritize enabling integrations and extensions that align with our customers' specific needs. Our approach to work can be best described as ideology-agnostic, as we integrate methods that are most effective for our unique circumstances. While some of these methods may fall under the umbrella of "agile," they often lack flashy names or widespread recognition. In fact, many of them are so straightforward and simple that it would feel inappropriate to charge for such basic knowledge. However, they consistently deliver successful results because they stem from a fundamental belief that surpasses any framework or reference book. This belief centers around the idea that we are all responsible adults who value treating each other with respect and professionalism. This mindset, which is invaluable to us, cannot be bought or sold.