Agile Newspeak

Newspeak_zpsefe840aeEvery time and again, I go back to the “4 ways that agile is declining post” to see if it is still relevant. I don’t get disappointed.

Now that I am a full time agile coach, I’m in a kind of a fix. Agile has crossed the chasm, and scrum won as we all know. So people expect and want Scrum. I usually don’t deliver on that, because scrum is not a solution, it’s a starting point. So what I do is start with some combination of scrum and kanban and try to fit a method to the organization I’m working with. This is of course a long process, with ups and downs, and leads to good results many times.

Then I come to a place that already learned scrum. Ah, you say, if they already do scrum why do they need you?  Good question.

Remember I was talking about agile as snake oil? Ok, it doesn’t really matter if they were actually sold on that oil, or that they felt that they didn’t need coaching any more, and once the coach was not there, they implemented it themselves. Or that the coach was trying to fit it to the current culture or organization. The fact is that they don’t do scrum by the book.

Which is fine, if it works. I’m all for good results, no matter how you get them. Then why would they need a coach?

There used to be a “scrum-but” idea. “We’re doing scrum, but we don’t do stand ups”, and you can replace the different “buts”.  That was a smell – it usually pointed to a conflict between scrum values and the organizational values, where the organization won. Then again, nobody who’s doing scrum successfully is doing vanilla scrum, so a smell can be just that.

Sometimes, however, that’s not a scrum-but. They are doing scrum, there’s no but. In their eyes. Dig in and you’ll see:

  • Product owners are not part of the team. In fact, in a sprint, each team works with multiple product owners.
  • Product owners commit to the customer how many story points the team (who doesn’t know the requirements yet) can deliver
  • The team can estimate all they want, but still need to meet what the POs promised. (If you think about it, estimation is really waste in that case).
  • The team leader is the scrum master.  He needs to manage conflicting requirements and assign them to the different team members.
  • So there’s not a real team, just a bunch a people who happen to have the same manager.
  • Testers are assigned and rotated between teams. But since they are remote, and have their own managers funny things can happen, I’m sure you can imagine.
  • Requirements are not all ready in the beginning of the sprint, so over time things get delayed to the end, and guess what kind of march the team is doing in the late stage of the sprint? It’s even planned ahead.
  • Daily meetings are mostly done, but POs mostly skip them. Which makes sense, because they are busy filling their requirement quota.
  • Finally, there’s also the small fact that people aren’t happy.

They are doing scrum, they’ll tell you. The top management who brought trainers and coaches before to introduce scrum, don’t understand why scrum doesn’t work.

This is not a scrum-but. This is 1984’s Newspeak. This is taking scrum vocabulary and assigning new meaning to it.

It can only end in two ways: Giving another chance to scrum, with coaches, and trainers, and management backing.

Or they can just proclaim that “scrum is snake oil” and wait for the new hot thing.

Reference: Agile Newspeak from our JCG partner Gil Zilberfeld at the Geek Out of Water blog.
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