Agile Coaching is Evil
And Scrum Mastering is the work of the Devil.
[Update: 15 March 2012]
It’s nice to see this post has generated some discussion both on Twitter and in the comments below.
It seems clear that some folks object to the term “evil”, which surprised me a bit, as the dictionary entry says
- morally wrong or bad; immoral; wicked: evil deeds; an evil life.
- harmful; injurious: evil laws.
- characterized or accompanied by misfortune or suffering;unfortunate; disastrous: to be fallen on evil days.
So I’d like to explain why I (carefully) chose this particular word, despite the risk of being accused of click-baiting. Please note I am particularly focusing on definition 2), above, although I’ll touch on 1) and 3) a bit, too.
Why Agile Coaching is Evil
I have done much Agile Coaching myself over the years, and know a whole bunch of excellent, sincere, and lovely people who put their heart and soul into trying to help others through Agile Coaching.
But Agile Coaching make implicit promises. Promises about collaboration, treating people better, giving people more say in the way the work works, self-organisation, and a whole host of other ideas – which I’d collect together under the label “synergistic thinking”. The organisations commissioning Agile Coaching rarely if ever appreciate that these promises are part of the package. And these organisations are rarely, if ever, prepared to deliver on the promises being made on their behalfs. In fact, it’s the raising of these hopes and expectations in the players, and the wider organisation’s ignorance, indifference or downright opposition, that contributes to much tension, stress and frustration (i.e. misfortune and suffering) all round, only a little while down the line.
I’d have to say yes.
“Optimising one part of a system ALWAYS leads to sub-optimisation of the system as a whole.”
“Hate the sin, love the sinner”.
They Know Not the Evil that They Do
The saddest part in all this, for me, is that few Agile Coaches seem to be aware of these issues. Or, for those who are aware of them, they seem to regard them as inevitable, intractable, insoluble, or irrelevant. In their genuine keenness to help people, to spread the “Agile goodness”, they wrap themselves up up in the minutiae of daily coaching practise, and sooner or later become inure to the dysfunctions imposed by the wider system – dysfunctions outside their remit or influence.
As William Kingdon Clifford (1845-1879) said:
“it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
I hold that is is wrong (unethical, immoral, and, yes, evil) for us all to continue believing (or is it pretending?) that:
- Agile Coaching generally has much impact on the bottom line of business.
- Agile Coaching, as a local optimisation, does not contribute to the sub-optimisation of the whole organisation.
- Agile Coaching does not falsely raise players’ hopes, over the longer term.
- Agile Coaching does not make implicit promises the organisation cannot keep.
- Agile Coaching does not make players less employable (see my Magralls11 video for more on that argument).
With the lights of Ohno, Deming, Ackoff, Senge, et al to guide us as to the crucial role of “the system”, we know better, now. Is ignoring that knowledge evil? I’d have to say, yes.
The Agile Manifesto
That was then, this is now.
“No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the enemy’s main body.” ~ Von Moltke
For its day, the Agile manifesto was a landmark in bringing some sanity to the world of software development. But things have not gone according to plan. The issues noted and addressed by the manifesto and its signatories have turned out not to be the core issues affecting software development. There is merit in the argument that we could only have discovered this by addressing what we imagined those issues to be, to learn whether our hypotheses were relevant.
Indeed, some of those hypotheses were, and remain, marginally relevant. But newer, much more relevant hypotheses have now come into sharp focus.
Unfortunately, we appear to have become rather too wedded to the “plan” (hypotheses) of 10+ years ago. We have discovered that the enemy’s main body was not where we thought, but we continue to conduct the battle as if it were. Are we just paying lip-service to the value of learning, and that it’s OK to fail, so long as we learn from our failures? Or can we truly embrace that idea, and learn from the failure of the Agile Manifesto and all its works?
Agile Coaching is a case in point. With the very best of intentions, Agile coaching has climbed into bed with the enemy, and is now comfortably(?) making it breakfast every morning. And just like any loveless marriage, no one is really happy, but having a roof over one’s head and a modicum of social standing, on the one hand, and daily breakfast in bed, on the other, often outweighs matters of principle. Agile coaching is thus now clearly evil.
Similarly, Scrum Mastering is the work of the Devil, bending its considerable efforts to accommodating the status quo and deliver more-or-less irrelevant local optimisations (and that’s in those rare cases when it’s working “well”).
A New Plan
We need a new plan. One that recognises present intelligence (sic) on the disposition of the enemy. And to draw up a new plan, I suggest we might also do well to pay attention to Clausewitz and Von Moltke (among others) and:
- Very clearly articulate our “commander’s intent”.
- Listen intently to the junior officers and serve their need for information (and the necessary resources).
- Get the hell out of the way and let the folks on the front line make it happen.