The agile label fraud

Guest contribution by | 18.07.2019

I rode with my colleague in the elevator to the IT department of a customer. We were already impressed, right there in the cabin. While the elevator was rattling its way up, we were stunned to read the new signs: Chief Digital Officer, Agile Product Management, Change Management.

At the top we met our contact person, the somewhat overtired looking IT manager. When we spoke to him about the ambitious change in his company, he rolled his eyes meaningfully. The IT manager sighed slightly, paused for a moment to think about it and enlightened us: The change in the company had already been underway for several months. The organisation chart had already been completed and the doorplates had been changed. But nothing had changed in his day-to-day business. And anyway, there was a critical disruption today and he hardly had time for ideas on how to better organise work in his department. With a certain disillusionment, we followed him into his office.

Agile rolls and the emperor’s new clothes

I admit, that’s a very strong example. But there are more of them than expected: the Product Owners, who in reality only operate the Jira ticket machine, the Scrum Masters on a part-time basis, for whom it is primarily important that harmony prevails in the team, and the DevOps, who are still only responsible for IT operations.

All this is often called agile, but is it really? Some behaviour is reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. The emperor had ordered experts to weave new clothes for a lot of gold. The results were literally air. But only a small child had the courage to call the obvious by its name. Children and fools tell the truth bluntly!

I would like to give two examples from my own experience to my observation of the agile label fraud. The names are fictitious, the contents unfortunately not.

The project professional Carl …

The experienced project manager Carl becomes Scrum Master Carl. After a short training he gets started. Carl diligently reports the team status, ensures a sensible reporting system and searches for solutions if there are problems somewhere. If there is a problem, he gives recommendations for action, which the team gladly and gratefully follows.

Carl is very clear about one thing: Something that feels like project management, smells like project management and also tastes like project management, that is also project management! Even if there are other ceremonies now. But Carl also gets along with them.

… and the expert Mary

As a second example, I take the technical expert Mary. Mary is really good in her field. Suddenly she becomes a product owner! For Mary, the biggest change in her new role was the user stories: “Why do technical requirements now have to be written in these comical form sets of user stories?

**As a donkey I need straw so that I can say Yo-Yo-Yo-Yo**?

Mary thinks to herself: “I actually liked the old concepts better, but all right, I’ll write them in an agile form. Apart from that, a lot remains the same for Mary: Her boss dictates the topics, the critical customer is kept away and Mary sorts tickets for her team in a sprint. Resigned, she notes: “Actually, everything is as it used to be. But has it really gotten better? Oh dear, the deadline has already been missed again.

The managed change: risks and side effects undesirable!

How does the agile label fraud occur? Is there possibly a positive intention behind it and if so, which one?

My thesis is this: “For many decision-makers, be they managing directors, board members or division managers, there is a desire that the organisation and the people change. For many decision-makers, be they managing directors, board members or division managers, there is a need for the organisation and the people to change. Employees should become more agile and flexible, they should take on more responsibility and must think more entrepreneurially. But this change should take place in an orderly manner, according to proven methods and as parallel as possible to day-to-day business. Risks and side effects are undesirable! Perhaps the problem lies in this way of thinking?

Throw away the labels …

Throw away the labels, be the brave child in Andersen’s fairy tale and raise your voice if you only see a new coat of paint on old facades. And don’t be the emperor who doesn’t trust his own eyes. Look for comrades-in-arms and stand together for good and meaningful work. Be courageous and throw away the wrong labels! So it’s not agile, but maybe right and sensible!

… and become fools again!

Become fools again! Why? Because the Agile Manifesto was originally nothing but a provocative folly. Everything, really everything that was previously considered professional and right, the Agile Manifesto deliberately turned upside down.

  • People and communication are more important than processes
  • Cooperation is more important than contracts
  • Reaction is more important than planning
  • Results are more important than reports

At the birth of the manifesto in 2001, these seemingly truisms were not only impertinence, they were a foolery of the worst kind.

“Please? Informal conversations are supposed to be more important than clearly defined roles, responsibilities and processes? What gross nonsense!”

The agile mindset is the mindset of the fool

Is that the core of agility: a liberation of thought and action? A detachment from old patterns of thinking and false expectations? Agility is a nonsense that leads to true and deeper insights through trial and error and experimentation.

The true agile mindset is the mindset of the fool who asks questions, says what he sees, and bravely searches for other and new ways. This thinking is timeless and by no means an invention of modernity. It is not only the thinking of the fool, it is the thinking of the enlightenment! For that he does not need labels, especially not false ones.



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

Here you can find contributions by André Claassen in the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Stop agility

Stop agility

t2informatik Blog: The agile speed lie

The agile speed lie

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.