Agile Competency Is A Crock

Agile Competency Is A Crock


Part 1 – The Lede

The Agile Manifesto set out to make developers’ (and others’) live richer, saner and more fulfilling.

A true irony of the legacy of that Manifesto is that finding a fulfilling job or role “in Agile” is nowadays next to impossible.

Competency is not something valued by hirers and their gatekeepers. Being a “safe hire” is all.

Part 2 – The Background Story

My dear friend, the late Grant Rule, had many compelling stories to tell.

One of these concerned a large insurance company in the home counties. Let’s call them InsCo. For some reason, the powers that be became interested in the reasons why they were not doing as well as they thought they should be, business-wise.

Some number of investigations were commissioned. One concerned the type of people they were hiring, versus the type of people needed for business success.

To cut a long story short, it became revealed to them that not only were they hiring people with little to contribute in the way of the organisation’s business goals, they were actually hiring people whose general style actively undermined those goals.

In other words, their hiring practices were expressly filtering out those people best suited to make a positive contribution inside the business. And this had been going on for years, if not decades.

I always found the story fascinating, not least for its compelling ring of truth.

In todays’s business world, I see many of the organisation I visit or work with making exactly the same error.

Organisations whose hiring practices filter OUT exactly those candidates who would best contribute to the espoused goals of the organisation.

Guided by the heuristic of POSIWID, I assume that organisations – or more exactly the core group within an organisation – are not much interested in the organisation’s espoused goals. Deming said as much fifty years ago, with his First Theorem:

“Nobody gives a hoot about profit”

~ W Edwards Deming

I find this particularly noticeable in hiring for so-calle Agile positions and roles. […]

Now, I’m not about to criticise folks – senior executives and middle managers in this case – for acting in their own individual and collective (core group) best interests.

It’s what humans do – acting to get needs met.

I’m just inviting you, like the executives at InsCo did, to take a look at the consequences of your current hiring and staffing policies and processes.

And consider how those staffing policies and processes play against the things that matter to you.

Oh, and maybe consider what those things that matter to you are, too.

Part 3 – The Dilemma

For me, struggling as I am to find gainful and meaningful employment, the questions aired in part 2 raise an interesting question for all of us in the Agile field:

Do we concentrate on appearing competent, and on our abilities to help the organisation achieve its espoused goals? Or do we focus on getting a well-paid job – which demands a very different strategy and “personal brand image”?

The former strategy suggests we list our experience, results and contributions to the success of the organisations we have worked with. That we take hiring organisations’ espoused goals at face value and play to those declared goals.

The latter strategy suggests we present ourselves in terms that appeal to the needs we imagine the hirers – and their gatekeepers – have.

Needs rarely articulated and only determinable through observation of these folks’ actions. Needs which in most cases means portraying ourselves as conventional, conservative, and status-quo loving. As “safe hires”.

I’ve discovered – unsurprisingly, to me – that I just CAN’T bring myself to do the latter.

I’m NOT a safe hire, not do I ever wish to be. My value proposition is other.

Outwith the emotional consequences of pretending to be something I’m not, and setting myself up at work to live a life that’s a bald-faced lie, I just don’t want to find myself in any more jobs or roles that, in essence, are just another stupid punt.

How about you?

– Bob

  1. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Bob,

    I hear you 🙂 So there isn’t a market for what it is you have to sell. As harsh as it sounds that is a bigger problem for you then it is for your potential clients.

    There is hope. You are not your job. Your job is a contractual agreement where you agree to exchange your time for a wage. What you get to do during working hours is not yours to decide, but how you do it is still largely up to you 🙂

    And outside work your time is your own! You are a free person.

    This is the psychological challenge that working men (and more recently working women) have faced for centuries. It’s the price we pay to put food on the table. Not fashionable to talk about but still as true today as it has always been.


    • I guess you totally missed the point of this post. It’s not about me. It’s about organisations and their espoused goals vs actual goals, strategies for meeting those actual goals, and the way in which folks’ needs at all levels and across all constituencies are not being effectively met.

      – Bob

      • Paul Beckford said:

        No, I got the point 🙂

        So when organisations tell you they want to be Agile, do you actually believe them? 🙂

        I spend most of my time trying to talk them out of it 🙂 “How about we just focus on getting better?”


  2. Paul – I think there is a market, it’s just that the market doesn’t realise it yet – individuals within organisations almost certainly recognise the need for Bob’s and other’s skills, but these are skills which often threaten the people who make the hiring decisions. Who would you rather employ – a consultant who genuinely wishes to think different and make a difference or an ‘agile ccoach’ (for example) who is going to tell you what they’ve read in a book and on their two day certification course. Bob (and others) may not tell you what you want to know, but they probably will tell you what you might need to know!


  3. Paul Beckford said:

    Hi Ally,

    “Paul – I think there is a market, it’s just that the market doesn’t realise it yet”

    So there isn’t a market 🙂

    In a market the customer is always right (even when their wrong) 🙂

    The nature of the work place is what it is. If we truly want to help then we need to engage organisations where they are now. Most are nowhere near ready for Agile. Agile is just the latest buzz, the latest fad, a synonym for “good”, they have no clue what it means, or what are the prerequisites to get there.

    “Bob (and others) may not tell you what you want to know, but they probably will tell you what you might need to know!”

    How many people want to be *told* anything? Most people switch off when people start telling them stuff 🙂

    As often is the case people don’t care until they discover it for themselves 🙂

    “Salt is sour, sugar is sweet, for now just words, but once you taste salt and taste sugar, then you know” – Someone wiser then me 🙂

    As Consultants (you notice I’m not saying Agile Consultants), it is our role to help people discover for themselves. Our job is to help them on *their* journey, which means meeting them where they are now….

    If we are not willing to do that then we are no help at all.


    • Hi Paul,

      I welcome your regular contributions, by way of comments, to this blog. I guess you have some insights you feel might benefit people, and thus are keen to share? If so, I can relate.

      I find it ironic when you write “How many people want to be *told* anything? Most people switch off when people start telling them stuff 🙂 As often is the case people don’t care until they discover it for themselves”. Because I see you doing that (telling Ally some stuff) in the above comment.

      Did you notice? Was “telling” your intention? Would you be willing to comment on this? :}

      – Bob

      • Paul Beckford said:

        Hi Bob,

        My wish (desire) to tell, doesn’t change the fact that people who aren’t of a like mind don’t like being told 🙂

        I’m pretty sure that Ally is of a similar mind to me (and you too), so my guess was that he wouldn’t mind me telling, hence me taking the liberty 🙂

        I was acting out if you will, to what I assumed would be a receptive audience. Even so, it isn’t the most effective approach (as born out in the tone of your response?). In many ways it was lazy and self indulgent of me. Something I’m happy to apologise for… so sorry.

        Back on topic…

        If you go into an organisation and *tell* them stuff that is the anthesis of the values upon which that organisation is founded then you aren’t going to be heard. It shouldn’t come as a surprise.

        Positive deviance says that rather then *telling*, it is better to make a big deal of the examples (however few) you can find within that organisation where people are acting in congruence with what you would have told them in the first place 🙂

        In my experience this is true. It works 🙂 Even so, for me, it smacks of psychological manipulation, and it doesn’t lead to a huge over night change (like the often espoused Agile transformation).

        So a couple of points:

        1. You can only tell people what they are ready to hear
        2. Influencing people who aren’t ready to hear is possible, but is difficult and will have limited results.

        Which brings me to the premise of your post, which is what I’m questioning. Are organisations in the market for “Agile transformation” actually ready for it?

        I am saying that in the most part the answer is no. And as a short cut to explaining why, here is a link to the type of organisation that I believe is intrinsically ready, and able to absorb Agile *competency*:

        Very different from the majority of companies I come across.


  4. Paul Beckford said:

    BTW. Just to be clear, in my last response, I talking about telling the *leaders* of that organisation. The people that need to change first if change is going to stick and propagate throughout. Telling the workers is easy 🙂 They’re receptive, they know this stuff anyways from bitter experience 🙂

  5. I actually quite like to be told things. And I often find myself telling other people things. What’s important to me is **how** I’m told things, and **how** I’m allowed (or allow myself) to react to what I’m being told. I don’t respond well to orders, nagging or bureaucratic nonsense, I will question interesting ideas and concepts before accepting them as valid to my mindset, and I respond extremely well to flattery and rarely question it these days but bask in it’s rarity value! 😉

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