Preventing Allergic Reactions: Navigating the Agile Landscape Beyond Scams, Fads, and Buzzwords



Written By: Ahmed Avais

When I relocated to North Carolina (NC) from Chicagoland in 2018, people warned me that I had to be prepared for not one but three pollen seasons! Friends who’ve been in the area for decades shared with me that they’ve developed allergies since coming to the area. My own experiences here were strange yet eventually became the norm, like having my residence blanketed with a powdery yellow pollen outside. All that being said, I love living here, just a few hours drive away from both the mountains and Atlantic Ocean, with endless trails, what’s not to love! And I totally get how this might not be for everyone. I’d rather adapt to the environment (let the body do its natural adaptive thing) and make the most of the wonderful experiences NC has to offer.

Allergic to the word Agile

And like pollen that causes allergies, some people have been reacting to the word “Agile”; it’s been derided as a scam on hacker news, discredited by traditional-minded corporations as a mere fad, and hotly debated by consultants who cannot decide whether it is still applicable or not. As far back as 2012 when ComputerWorld published its article “Agile: glam or scam?”, two camps were revealed – those who found success with agile methods and saw no better way to work and those who deemed the process cumbersome, costly, and unhelpful. Maybe the truth resides somewhere in between. And many in the agile community believe that their most formidable adversary is not Waterfall but rather ‘bad agile’.

Not only is the term ‘agile’ a trigger for some people, but several other words can also elicit a similar reaction. When I was employed by a major healthcare insurance company, I was informed certain terms were considered radioactive like gaps and analysis, and I should never utter them in front of executives. And when asked why they pointed to their past experiences with bigger consulting companies that they had since kicked out. In another assignment, the CIO insisted we not use the word ‘Product’, but instead replace it with ‘Solution’ without exception. This presented us with an amusing challenge as we tried to promote product thinking and product ownership, which was tough, yet not impossible.

Where did the word agile come from?

Let’s take a closer look at the definition of Agile and its implications. According to the dictionary, it means “able to move quickly and easily” – with synonyms like nimble, graceful, flexible, etc. The connection between the dictionary definition and the intent behind the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, as expressed by some agile proponents, is to be able to “change on a dime for a dime”. I learned from one source that when the manifesto writers deliberated over various words, Adaptive Software Development was a serious candidate. Allegedly, it did not make it into the final document because one author, who had written a popular book about it, would have profited too much if chosen. Nevertheless, they eventually decided that “agile” was the most suitable option. One of the authors of the manifesto even wished they had gone with something absurdly humorous such as “Artisanal Retro-Futurism crossed with Team-Scale Anarcho-Syndicalism“. He makes several valid points in his video; it’s certainly worth watching.

The Agile Landscape: Scams and Misconceptions

The Agile Manifesto outlines principles that prioritize collaboration, customer satisfaction, and delivering value continuously. And can be easily extended beyond software with adaptation. However, as the popularity of agile has grown, so has the number of organizations claiming to be “agile” without fully embracing its principles. This has led to the rise of “fake agile,” where organizations use agile as a buzzword to gain credibility without actually making meaningful changes to their development processes. Steve Denning’s decade-long research led him to identify three main components constituting a mindset that make an entire organization generate both operational agility (better existing business) and strategic agility (new products/services for new customers.) They are:

  1. The law of the small team states that small cross-functional teams are the building blocks for Agile and Lean organizations 
  2. The law of the customer says that success comes from delivering value to the customer and that organizations must focus on delivering value as quickly as possible
  3. The law of the network states that organizations must leverage networks and ecosystems to achieve their goals and that the power of the network grows with the number of nodes in the network

These laws are a good way to look at how well the agile landscape is laid out for the organization.

The Importance of Purposeful Development

Regardless of what you call, purposeful development is key to delivering business value and achieving meaningful progress. Companies must take a holistic approach to delivery, one that puts the customer at the heart of their strategy. This means actively seeking out feedback from customers and incorporating it into the product design and development process. Additionally, companies should focus on collaboration between teams and stakeholders in order to ensure that all aspects of the project are given equal consideration and attention. Finally, embracing continuous improvement is essential for the successful delivery of value-driven projects. Constant review, testing, and refinement will help organizations improve their processes and products over time while ensuring they remain relevant to customers’ needs. By combining these principles with iterative development, organizations can move past fake agile approaches and be better able to drive real business outcomes.

Navigating the Agile Landscape

Navigating the agile landscape and promoting meaningful development requires organizations to reframe conversation beyond trigger words and concentrate on a few key areas:

  • Emphasizing customer value: Prioritizing the needs of the customer and delivering value that meets their needs should be at the forefront of all development efforts. This means regularly engaging with customers and iteratively improving products based on their feedback.
    • An example of this would be understanding and prioritizing customer complaints, rather than cutting costs by reducing customer support.

  • Fostering collaboration: Agile development is founded on the principles of collaboration and cross-functional teamwork. Organizations should encourage collaboration and promote a culture of continuous improvement to drive progress and foster innovation.
    • An example would be in creating cross-functional teams that include representatives from different departments such as development, design, and product management. Additionally, regularly scheduled meetings like sprint reviews, provide opportunities for stakeholders to give feedback earlier.  
  • Embracing continuous improvement: Purposeful development is a journey, not a destination. Organizations should embrace a mindset of continuous improvement and continuously evaluate their processes and practices to drive better outcomes.
    • An example of embracing continuous improvement is conducting regular retrospectives that could be layered at the team, multi-team, and enterprise levels.  

Keeping Transformations Business Outcome Focused and Generative

I’ll conclude with two points. Firstly, It is necessary to recognize why some words can cause harm and lead to undesirable results. By being aware of the potential effects of our words, we can express ourselves more carefully, especially when interacting with people from different backgrounds. To ensure conversations are respectful and inclusive, we should make sure to avoid offensive language and maintain a level of mutual respect. Comprehending why certain phrases may be seen as radioactive is important in constructing a space for everyone to be heard and respected.

Secondly, organizations must prioritize purposeful development regardless of the techniques used in order to maximize business value and reach meaningful objectives. To stay on track toward such aspirations, organizations should focus on customer satisfaction, promote collaboration amongst personnel, and embrace consistent enhancement. Agile principles should not be overlooked as they can aid greatly – but also keep in mind that there is more to achieving success than just following the methodology – it largely rests on the principles of intentionally developed progress while evaluating methods that enable improved outcomes.

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