Agile experts say the stupidest things | Jesse Fewell Agile experts say the stupidest things – Jesse Fewell

Agile experts say the stupidest things

By November 2, 2012Blog, Uncategorized

It drives me crazy. I heard an agile consultant this week say, “We’re trying to force the client to track progress they way we want her to”. Really? Good luck with that.

People tell me over and over the things self-appointed agile experts have said, and when you think about it, not only do they violate the spirit of the agile movement, they just sound silly. Tell me if you’ve heard one of these before.

“Our project will succeed only with a full and immediate implementation of an agile methodology, and its associated project tracking software”.

 The official definition of the agile movement can be found at agilemanifesto.org, which explicitly values Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools.Granted, a shrink-wrapped set of people-friendly policies can be a good foundation for transforming a losing team into a winning team. Indeed, I actively promote both the Scrum methodology and the PMI-ACP certification as good things. But that does not mean just doing those things will automatically improve team performance. Instead, a true agile practitioner will ask simple breakthrough questions: Are we all on the same page? What agreements can the team install and self-enforce, to address those gaps? How can we customize our current methodology to support those agreements?

As I’ve mentioned here before, the methodology doesn’t matter. What matters are the principles you embrace towards delivering your project.

“We’re agile now, we don’t do any project documentation”.

 This common myth is seeded in the manifesto’s favoring of Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation. Granted, many projects waste money on piles and piles of reports that nobody reads. But, that does not mean we throw everything out the window.

Instead, a true agile practitioner will seek to understand why those documents are mandated. Sometimes, a better specification can often improve the quality or accuracy of the final deliverable. Sometimes a risk register or Gantt chart can help increase credibility and stakeholder support for a project. The document doesn’t matter; what matters is that we address the underlying need.

“Fixed-price contracts are immoral. All our projects will now be time-and-materials.”

 This is a fanciful interpretation of the agile manifesto stating its preference for customer collaboration over contract negotiation. Granted, many projects are launched as the result of zero-sum negotiations leaving a project team underfunded and understaffed. But that does not mean we refuse to have the conversation.

Instead, a true agile practitioner will strive to forge a positive working relationship with her sponsor with deeper questions: What are the client’s concrete business goals for this project? If push comes to shove, can we achieve the goal with only half the features to stay on schedule? Is it possible more budget would be approved for extra safety reviews?

Fixed-price doesn’t matter. Several people have offered agile contracting structures that support what does matter: a positive working relationship around project goals (for more info, see my PMI webinar on the topic of Agile Contracts).

“We’re agile now, so we don’t have to estimate. The project will be done when it is done”

This delightful gem is inspired the value the manifesto places on responding to change over following a plan. Granted, many projects are mindlessly judged on budget and schedule, regardless of how bad or how wrong the deliverable is. But that doesn’t mean we stop planning altogether.

Instead, a true agile practitioner will generate as much meaningful data as possible about our health of our project: Will we run out of money before we achieve our goals? Does our sponsor have enough data to make hard trade-off decisions? As General Eisenhower said “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

“That’s not agile.”

Guest what. I don’t care what you think is agile. I care whether we’re going to deliver. In the end, a project is judged not on the mechanics used, but on the objectives met. The agile movement was launched as a reaction against a focus on bad mechanics. If you’re falling in love with your agile mechanics as the silver bullet, then you’re dangerously close to losing your agility.

What about you? What silly things have you heard agile people say, often in direct contradiction to the Agile Manifesto?

[NOTE: This post was originally published as part of my recurring column, “The Agile Project Manager”, printed in PM Network magazine. Other installments and more info can be found here]