Focusing on Results, Not Agile Approaches
January 01, 2019
2019 marks the 25 year anniversary of Scrum and DSDM. I was involved in the creation of DSDM in 1994 and was an early adopter of Scrum and FDD shortly afterward. Now, having been at this for a quarter of a century I am reflecting on where my journey has taken me compared to others.
I am agnostic about agile. I value the mindset and goals more than approaches that preach a single path. This has had mixed blessings for me. I remain agnostic and impartial, but I have not jumped on any of the approach bandwagons.
I received more training in Scrum by Ken Schwaber in 2002 and offered a training role (before they were called CSTs) but I have never offered Certified Scrum Master training. I would feel wrong evangelizing the singular view of Scrum as the way, or role of the Scrum Master to spread Scrum. That feels too religious to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Scrum is an OK starting place, but I would not recommend only using a Scrum approach - since approaches like Lean, Kanban and FDD have great things to contribute too. Some Scrum practitioners correctly explain that Scrum does not say you cannot add other approaches. In fact, it can be viewed as a deliberately incomplete framework, so organizations have to add their own process to make it successful. Yet this message is undersold as I visit organization after organization that only use Scrum practices with maybe some XP engineering practices. They are missing out on so much more and struggling because of it.
The Scrum community often has a myopic focus blaming implementation struggles on a failure to understand or apply Scrum properly - when maybe something outside of Scrum would better suit the situation.
Likewise, I think SAFe does a great job of packaging and presenting some good ideas for organizations to consider - but its adoption draws too much effort away from developing valuable product. By all means, raid SAFe for valuable content and ideas, but create your own approach with the bare minimum of process. Then continue to ditch that process as soon as it is no longer worth the effort.
In the 25 years I have been using agile approaches, I have seen companies like LeadingAgile and LitheSpeed form, grow and prosper. They offer Scrum and SAFe training even though they are also agnostic and understand the benefits of various approaches.
I have thought about just sucking it up, drinking the cool aid and offering these courses. I could also explain there is nothing to stop us blending other approaches too. However, then its not really Scrum or SAFe, or whatever I am peddling so it is not a genuine message, which is important for me.
I offer my own training courses in agnostic agile, focussing on the philosophy and tools available for a variety of circumstances. However, like trying to market a healthy, balanced diet, I am first to acknowledge the message lacks the clarity, simplicity or sex-appeal of a single, silver-bullet solution.
People want a “Paleo”, or “South Beach”, or “Atkins”, “Mediterranean”, “Keto”, “Raw”, or “<Whatever>” solution to follow. I can yell, “Stop being lazy sheep and think for yourself”, but the majority of people want recipes and ready-meals, not to learn nutrition and cooking skills.
Benefits, not Popular Fads / Staying On Track
That is OK, I would rather be genuine than popular. I truly believe we are most successful when agnostically taking the most suitable approaches for our circumstances. Then, ruthlessly reviewing, morphing and pruning these approaches as our teams evolve.
We need to focus on the output, the business value, not the process. If wearing purple hats produced better results than agile then I would be all for purple hats and ditching agile. This is one reason I named my company as LeadingAnswers and not a name with the word “Agile” in it. I am focussed on solutions and outcomes, not a single approach. I still believe Agile is our best starting point, but I am always hopeful we will create something better.
As 2019 starts, I am doubling down on my “Yes, and…” commitment. I realize the message lacks the clarity of a single, sexy, (sub-optimal) solution and so it will never be widely adopted. However, my last 25 years has taught me that there are enough people who see the benefit of a balanced, evolving approach.
So, I hope you stick with me as I explore being successful by focussing on delivering business value regardless of approach. I think there is merit in traditional processes in the right circumstances. There are also many underemployed benefits from leadership, emotional intelligence, and industry specific practices that get used in pockets that we could all learn from.
Here’s to another 25 years of delivering the most business value we can through situationally specific approaches.
Great, common sense article - thanks
Posted by: Meade Rubenstein | January 03, 2019 at 09:54 AM
Hello, thank you very much for this POST
I really felt completely identified and it is liberating, knowing that I am not the only one who thinks that one should not be a purist about any framework, it is always better to produce something of your own, according to the needs of the company.
Posted by: Alejandro Guerra Molina | January 04, 2019 at 09:31 AM
Mead, Thanks for your comment, I am glad you enjoyed it.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | January 04, 2019 at 09:44 AM
Alejandro, yes - producing something ourselves adds special qualities of accountability, ownership and shared responsibility for success. People are more vested and committed to ensuring the success of something they helped create rather something they only found an adopted.
We can be inspired by anything, in fact, it is preferable to be as well rounded as we can be, then use what is best for our situation and keep improving. I am glad the post resonated with you.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | January 04, 2019 at 09:51 AM
Indeed great message and putting it in so many words. I hope this become an eye opener for many to focus on result more...
Posted by: Dipti | January 06, 2019 at 04:52 AM
Posted by: Marcelo Espejo | January 06, 2019 at 02:59 PM
Really great article with rare common sense approach about agility and processes.
Posted by: Dyana Torquato | January 06, 2019 at 06:02 PM
Great article. Couldn't agree more. There's too much focus on terminology in industry today and not enough focus on results.
Posted by: Barry Curry | January 07, 2019 at 01:34 AM
A very different thought process, I have experience of 4-5 years in Agile however I do see that Principles and Values are hijacked or not used or misused because it does not have a clearly wrapper.
Posted by: Bhavin Shah | January 07, 2019 at 03:39 AM
Good article as usual Mike. Your agnostic approach is consistent with the principles of Disciplined Agile which is a toolkit full of agile and lean strategies that you can use to optimize your way of working for your unique context. One approach, such as Scrum doesn't suit all. In fact in some situations Scrum can be an incredibly bad idea, and a lean continuous delivery approach might better. As Scott and I say DA's principles include "choice is good", "context counts", and apply a "pragmatic agile" approach
Posted by: Mark Lines | January 08, 2019 at 03:01 PM
When it comes to specific agile frameworks, do you find it better for organizations new to agile to pick a framework and strictly adhere to it, or is it better to be a little loose and open with framework interpretation?
Having worked with agile for only a few years, learning and reading about it, it seems a lot of the suggestions for new organizations involve strictly adhering to a framework. That has always seemed problematic to me for several reasons; the first and main reason is that the benefits of agile are not in the frameworks themselves but what the framework could possibly provide.
In an organization that wants to become more agile, completely changing the way they do things to become "agile" may seem like a big leap and one that an organization may not want to go through. I would think a slower transition, work towards trying to bring in some of the areas that the frameworks focus on would be a better option for a lot of companies. For example, work on trying to keep meeting focused and meaningful, using timeboxes to help. Maybe set aside some time to work on areas that you can improve in your process and your product.
To me, it seems like this slower and less dogmatic approach would be an easier pill to swallow - assuming the company stuck with it. This post just made me think of this and I was kind of wondering your thoughts on this.
Posted by: Joshua Render | January 09, 2019 at 09:00 PM
Mark - Thanks for leaving a comment and I agree with you view.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | January 10, 2019 at 09:23 AM
Joshua - Thanks for your questions. A couple of guiding principles can help here. First, I believe teams should try approaches unmodified before tailoring them. We should understand how they are supposed to work before making changes. That said, jumping into the deep-end is not always the best way to go.
Incremental introduction of new approaches works very well, adopt the mindset and try some of the techniques. Once you have those working OK, add some more until you are eventually using them all. Big bang implementations are favored by large consulting firms since they sell "transformation packages" but people are actually slow to embrace new ideas and meaningful change takes time and support - it's not a sheep dipping experience like a couple of days training.
Finally, some approaches like Kanban, recommend "Starting where you are", this means accepting what you currently have and then using lean principles of reducing waste and WIP to start making improvements. Like you say, these less dogmatic transition strategies are generally easier to accept.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | January 10, 2019 at 09:32 AM
OMG! So glad to know, I am not the only one thinking like this! I totally, completely identify with this! I love the thought, ‘ feels too religious’ :)
I also, completely agree with the diet analogy you used!
Believe it or not, of all the certifications, I found the PMI ACP the best, approach agnostic!
Posted by: Mekhla | January 18, 2019 at 07:16 PM
Mekhla - I am glad you identified with my message. It seems quite a few people do, which is great. Same goes for the PMI-ACP, we tried to make it comprehensive, rigorous enough to be valuable, and approach agnostic.
Posted by: Mike Griffiths | January 19, 2019 at 07:47 AM