my brief Agile faith crisis

Filed under: Agile,workfriendly — @ 21:39
Tags: , , ,

Recently I was labelled “religious” about Agile. For a few days thereafter I agonised about whether I have taken a purist, ideological and dogmatic stance that could block innovation. Or perhaps worse still, slow people down who are getting things done. I find myself at odds with the majority. In short, a crisis of faith!

My crisis leads to questioning what could be so wrong about tailoring Agile to fit whatever the situation calls for? What could be the harm in taking the bits of Agile that suit and discarding the less well-fitted?

I turn to the gurus and sages, the Agile thought leaders. What do they have to say about which principals are essential? the fundamentals without which Agile is just not Agile? There are a few classic quotes, for instance Alistar Cockburn and Ken Schwaber’s comments about Scrum with beginners and Ken’s request not to use the Scrum brand once it has been tinkered with – Scrum as a Framework. Interestingly, deviations far from the fundamentals are labelled “Smells”. Here are a few examples: Loss of Rhythm; Missing Pigs. It’s worth making the time to watch this presentation about Scrum at Google, in which these fundamentals stand out.

There may be some gains in taking parts of Agile and these might get things done. Equally there could be side-effects that build up and make people less efficient (I’ve witnessed this in action). Besides the possibility of unwanted byproducts, there’s the missed opportunity! Agile when implemented with all it’s fundamentals in-place is designed to show up weaknesses early. Done properly it highlights what a whole organisation needs to change to make itself better. It is “the canary in a coal mine“. If we only take the bits that “get things done” we only maintain the status quo, or more likely we build a legacy that slowly chokes our organisation.

In the end, as a self-styled Agile evangelist, it comes down to communication. More precisely, presentation of the message in such a way that it is palatable, without loosing it’s nutritional value – Agile seasoned with salt. Timing too, not when the appetite is present, because those on milk may feel satisfied, but timing in the sense of a gradual transition to solid food.

A common failing of those with a sense of strong faith is to couple it with a sense of elevation and even superiority over the unbelievers. Of course this polarises and alienates. A further failing then often follows, namely extremism. This characterises absolute failure! Destructive rather than the desired constructive outcome. Alienating rather than contributing. To be avoided at all costs. No, more than that: it demands reevaluation; readjustment.

In short, I have learnt from the experience. I’ve learnt that I need to make changes myself, and at the same time maintain my firmly held belief. My confident belief that the rewards of the narrow road outweigh the comforts of the broad. Wow, it’s remarkable how many religious metaphors this blog led to – ok, I’m religious about Agile, but I’m keenly aware of the need not to alienate and to collaborate allowing time for growth when we can reap the benefits together.



  1. David,

    Agreed. For me there is little argument against the benefits of agile. Indeed, as you know, I am one who believes that it can be applied in any situation. The key is to keep ones mind on the ultimate objective, to become more agile. Unfortunately, particularly in large organisations, it would require too great a leap of faith. Therefore a first step approach needs to be considered.

    I look to focus on the war, the odd battle lost on the way will seem less significant later on.

    Glad I read this :O)


    Comment by Paul Holbrook — 2010-12-22 @ 16:08

  2. Whatever the benefits of the various Agile techniques and based on personal experience I believe they do exist to varing degrees across the various techniques, the reason you have had a crisis of faith is because you do come across as a true believer in Agile.

    In the world of software development if not business in general, there is really no place for religious belief because it conflicts for the need to take a pragmatic approach actually deliver because thedomain is riven with uncertainty and lacking much in the way of scientific laws.

    I think if you look again at the Agile manifesto you see a underlying theme of pragmatism, rather than zealotry.

    The mere fact you talk about a “crisis of faith” and rely on arguments based on authority (the holy writ of Alistar Cockburn and co) rather than argument based on logical or empirical evidence show that your “crisis of faith” is actually a good thing and derives from your own inate intelligence and common sense.

    Sadly the most religious comment in your blog is the reference to canaries,

    “Done properly it highlights what a whole organisation needs to change to make itself better. It is “the canary in a coal mine“.

    This is so much like the thinking of many religious cults, we are the true believers and the rest of the world doesn’t accept us or works against our true faith because we they are unworthy.

    Comment by Godfrey de Zilla — 2010-12-23 @ 10:13

    • I’m pleased to see my blog attracted some insightful comments. These reaffirm my ratiocination that I should avoid zealotry which only serves to alienate. Equally I believe in maintaining a strong feeling of the value of strategic vision in proper balance with the tactical here and now.

      Comment by savaged — 2010-12-23 @ 12:12

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: