10 “Don’ts” to a Better Workplace – 3. Don’t Misuse “Agile”

“That’s not our job.” “We have to find out who’s responsible!” “He can do that, he’s been here long enough and knows what he’s doing.” These and others are things we’ve likely all heard in our workplace, and too many companies downplay or ignore these situations with attitudes like “It’s just the way it’s always been done”, or “It’d be too difficult to change”. But if companies can embrace change and are willing to make the sacrifices necessary, they can improve productivity and increase employee morale. This is one in a series of 10 changes (in no particular order) that can be implemented toward achieving that goal.

3. Don’t Misuse “Agile”

Agile is commonplace in organizations these days. However, there’s still quite a bit of misunderstanding out there about what Agile actually “is”, and those misunderstandings can cause poor performance, unhappy workplaces, and failed projects.

I’ve written before on what it means to be Agile, but the important part is this: Agile itself isn’t a methodology or process, it’s a set of principles that describe recommended principles and values. You can’t “do” Agile, you can only “be” Agile.

There are many different approaches to applying Agile principles. The most common of these methodologies is Scrum, but other popular ones include Lean, Kanban, XP, and RAD, among others. When an organization says they’re “Agile”, they’re almost always using one of these methodologies.

This fundamental (and in some cases, intentional) misunderstanding of what Agile is and isn’t is one of the larger issues in organizations today. If a company says they’re “Agile” but can’t name what methodology they’re using, they’re almost certainly struggling with “Agile” in their organization.

This misuse of the term “Agile” can have many causes. Sometimes the misuse comes from a genuine effort to improve without the knowledge and experience necessary. Other times the expectation is that Agile is easy to implement and a “quick fix” to internal process issues and ends up in frustration when the same problems remain. In worse cases, an organization’s intent is simply just to be able to say that they’re “Agile”, or to eliminate pressure from higher-ups that have heard about the success of Agile and want to attempt to fix their organization’s issues.

These and others are many of the reasons for the misuse of “Agile”, but they almost all fail due to missing one critical component to success: Commitment. Whether due to the naivety or hubris in thinking that Agile is easy enough to implement without the proper education and foundation, or the lack of engagement that stems from either the desire for just the label or having had it mandated from above, a lack of commitment to implementing and maintaining Agile correctly commonly results in frustration and failure, and unfortunately, in these cases it’s “Agile” itself that tends to get the blame.

Agile isn’t a solution for every situation, but many organizations have found Agile to be a powerful tool to provide visibility, adaptability, value, and risk mitigation to their process. However, Agile isn’t an easy solution or a quick fix, and if an organization is going to attempt to utilize Agile they must make sure they’re willing to do what it takes to make it work correctly. Examining and addressing the level of commitment to Agile from top to bottom is an important first step to improving a company’s success.

Is your company successful with Agile? If not, what are some examples of failure at Agile that you’ve experienced? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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