Stop agility

Guest contribution by | 11.10.2018

“Your projects or your team are not efficient enough for you? If you implement Scrum, you’ll double it in half the time.”
“You have a problem in team communication? Make a daily standup every day and the team works.”
“The progress of the project is not transparent to you? Work with a burndown chart and monitor progress day by day.”
“Do you want to make your IT organisation fit for the future? Switch to SAFe and your IT will be agile and efficient.”

This may seem familiar to you. There are countless examples of this kind. You sing a hymn to agility and suggest that the introduction of methods makes your company, your department or even you personally fit for the future. Now is the time for me to take a critical look at agility. I advocate a different approach to agility. The inflationary use of “agile” and “agility” and the associated belief in methods and recipes go too far. I intervene now and proclaim: Stop the agility mania! Stop agility!

The hype cycle

Welcome, we are now at the top of the hype cycle on agility. The hype cycle was invented by Jackie Fenn, an analyst working for Gartner. It goes through several phases: Triggers, peaks of exaggerated expectations, valley of the disappointed, path of enlightenment, plateau of productivity. From my point of view, when it comes to agility, we are now crossing the peak of exaggerated expectations. And now, similar to a roller coaster, we are moving ever faster towards the valley of the disappointed.

The hype cycle - Blog - t2informatik

The hype cycle of agility – on the way to the valley of disappointments

So the topic of agility can only go downwards and in many projects I have noticed that frustration is returning. There are already teams that oscillate periodically between agile and non-agile working methods. Meanwhile, many managers are insecure: The results promised by various management consultancies do not materialise. Meanwhile, the pressure on the market is increasing. Should I really intervene again as a manager and take corrective action? I do bear the responsibility, don’t I? Help!

Does everything really have to be agile now?

In recent years there has apparently been no subject area that has not been upgraded with the adjective agile. You can easily find articles about:

  • agile organisations,
  • agile financial controlling, sales or marketing,
  • agile administration, requirements engineering or project management,
  • agile leadership,
  • agile hospitals.

Where does this firing of an idea come from, which once originated innocently and unsuspectingly in the year 2001. At that time, the term agility was invented by IT experts in the winter paradise of Utah and led to the creation of the well-known Agile Manifesto. The Agile Manifesto with its 4 values and 12 principles was solemnly signed by all participants.

In the meantime, some of the Manifestos that signed the Manifesto have become sceptical and thoughtful. Ron Jeffries now speaks of “Dark Scrum”¹, Martin Fowler scolds the “agil-industrial complex”² and warned against the folly of first imposing methods on teams and then claiming that they are now working as agile.

The agile-industrial complex, does such a thing really exist?

Germany is also a country of degrees and certificates. The idea of agility was originally a grassroots movement of people who simply wanted to work better and more result-oriented. Your initial aim was to bring together ideas for lightweight development methods. The Agile Manifesto does not (yet) have a certificate. But for Scrum, Prince 2 Agile, SAFe and others, that already exists. The big consulting firms have long since discovered the topic for themselves and their advertising machinery constantly repeats the message: without agility nothing works anymore. The most frequently cited argument is that we live in a VUCA world and people like to refer to examples such as Uber, Airbnb and Amazon. For example, go to McKinsey’s website and you will find an infinite number of best practices on the subject of agility.

Eine Auswahl von Artikeln zur Agilität bei McKinsey

A selection of articles about agility from McKinsey

Back to the waterfall model?

IT has been dealing with agile working methods very early on. At that time, the methods were not even called agile, but lightweight development methods in contrast to formally complex processes such as the V-Model, the Rational Unified Process or the maximum complex certification model according to CMMI. In simple terms, classical methods are often referred to as waterfalls. In a waterfall, there is a staged process from requirements analysis to design, implementation, testing and delivery. The irony is: This waterfall has never existed in its pure form before. There have always been feedbacks, loops and iterations. Yes, they also existed in the V-model. So the reference to the waterfall doesn’t get us any further in our thinking. On the one hand because it does not exist in reality and on the other because the waterfall is not the opposite of agile work.

A thought-provoking impulse: What is the opposite of love?

And now I get to the point: What is the opposite of love? Is it hate? No, the opposite of love is indifference. And from my point of view this is also the key to the agile idea: What is the opposite of agility? I say it is the unreflected adherence to processes. In other words, the agile mindset is missing, be it in leadership, in the team or with each individual. And if this agile mindset or agile attitude is missing, then it is also missing in classical project management as well as in Scrum. And believe me, there are many Scrum teams that work without agile mindsets. Quite simply because Scrum has been put over their heads and they are trapped in a kind of Scrum theatre.

The agile mindset as the key to yourself

You will not find the agile mindset in the Agile Manifesto. In the Agile Manifesto there are values and principles, but the underlying attitude, which is necessary for the implementation of these values and principles, is not discussed there.

What are the characteristics of an agile mindset? From my point of view, these are the following aspects:

  • The willingness to continuously learn and grow.
  • The attitude of generosity without directly expecting anything in return.
  • The willingness to continuously reflect on one’s own way of working.
  • The will to bring real benefit to the customer.
  • The modesty not to refer all successes to oneself.
  • The courage to take responsibility for one’s own actions.

The agile mindset is the long-term basis for the successful application of agile working methods and procedures. The path to developing an agile mindset takes time and requires protection. The agile mindset is destroyed incredibly quickly, for example by reckless intervention by management or direct intervention in the team. You see dear reader, the key to agile working methods does not lie in the choice of the method, be it Scrum or Kanban, but in the personal development of each individual. I maintain that in the age of digitalisation, an essential success factor for every individual lies in his or her long-term personal development.

Digitisation is coming, simply because it exists

If digitisation continues to progress, and it will because it simply exists, human beings will become the focus of attention. And man is most effective when his creativity, his desire to create and his desire for social cooperation can be fulfilled as self-determinedly and intrinsically motivated as possible. In this context I recommend reading Svenja Hofert’s German book: Das agile Mindset.Mindset.³

From the method to new worlds of thought

If one’s own thought worlds influence agile action, then agile work can also take place in any work context. More important than the concrete method are customer orientation, the unconditional desire for feedback and learning as well as the motive for effective and goal-oriented work. Against this background the concrete method, be it Scrum or the Kanban-Board, fades away and the own attitude opens up new possibilities. Suddenly even requirement specifications can be created agilely or classic projects are supplemented with a retrospective and fast feedback loops.

Stop agility from being misused

The ideas behind the agile work and organisation remain valuable and good. But we must protect the term agility from being misused or used incorrectly. Otherwise the idea of self-organised work will soon be buried. I therefore say “Stop agility” because not everything and everyone has to be called agile. If something has to be done quickly, then it should also be called fast and not agile. If team communication is to be improved, then we are not talking about the agile team, but about team building. If processes are to become more efficient, then they are not agile processes. Let’s just call a spade a spade!



[1] Ron Jeffries about Dark Scrum
[2] The State of Agile Software in 2018 – Keynote of Martin Fowler, ath the Agile Australia
[3] Svenja Hofert: Das agile Mindset

In the course of the hype cycle, it can be useful to look at Amara’s Law. It says that we tend to overestimate the impact of an innovation in the short term and underestimate it in the long term.

This is the third part of André Claassen’s triology on agile work. The second part is called The agile speed lie”, the third is called “The agile label fraud”.

Top 2018 Blog Post - one of the most read posts in 2018

Here you can find additional articles of André Claassen in the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: The agile speed lie

The agile speed lie

t2informatik Blog: The agile label fraud

The agile label fraud

t2informatik Blog: 5 myths about the agile target system OKR

5 myths about the agile target system OKR

André Claassen
André Claassen

André Claaßen is a passionate digital expert. The computer scientist has more than 30 years of experience in digitization, IT projects and administration. In recent years, he has specialized in agile project management and digitization. In addition, he was enthusiastic about software architectures and the concrete use of artificial intelligence. He is convinced that digitization can only be successful if interdisciplinary thinking and work is carried out.