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Regarding the matter of speaking out publicly (on some things ‘Agile’)

People regularly approach me (often privately) with the request to speak out (potentially publicly) on various things ‘Agile’. Although I am humbled by the trust that genuinely speaks from their words, there is also (o, the horror!) the expectations in their requests.

I want to share my (multi-layered) doubts and hesitance regarding the matter of speaking out publicly on (some) things ‘Agile’. And thereby, in a way, speak out publicly anyhow… albeit offering–what I hope is–a nuanced perspective.

1. Regarding the matter of importance and impact

I wouldn’t overrate the importance or impact of my words and viewpoints. Because, surprise, surprise, I am no wizard. Agile nor Scrum. I’ve only found a way to stick around for a long time and still be hopeful. It is an ‘achievement’ that also includes that I have survived a bunch of ups and downs and have seen many others come and go.

The fact that some of my public messages get a lot of ‘likes’ is to a certain extent meaningless. It is not a sign of importance (let alone of impact). Because pressing ‘like’ on some social media platform does not represent commitment or action. I have found over and over that it often doesn’t even mean that a liker has actually read what I’m sharing. Worse, I observe regularly how some of the comments seem to have no other aim than trying to shine a light of importance on the commenting subject, often through some form of simplistic clickbait message. One of my core beliefs is that a name and a reputation can at most be a side effect, never the purpose (unless one doesn’t mind a very poor purpose).

Judging by the number of people actually actively joining me in my journey of humanizing the workplace with Scrum(extremely low), much of the expressed ‘respect’ is no more than paying lip service. Best case it is a confirmation of my wrongly presumed importance. It is not a confirmation of any impact that I may have (or not). Commitment is not in what people say, not in how they name themselves or look like. It is in what they do.

Nor can there thus be much expectations (in a positive or negative sense) of the actual impact of my words or viewpoints regarding the question whether a process or framework (whatever name they chose for themselves) is “Agile”.

2. Regarding the matter of action and contribution

Another highly personal belief is the belief in positive action. I want to deliver a positive contribution to our world, help increase the global levels of positivity. Believe me, I have little idea where that drive comes from. As I am aging however, the finding keeps taking root more firmly that I am a man who took the pain of his youth and transformed it into a mission.

There are already so many haters and bashers, certainly regarding my favourite tool, Scrum. So much energy is wasted on spreading negativity. Some people seem to spend their entire life on nothing but ranting. It might help them gain many followers and leave them with a feeling of being a ‘leader’ (again, what a strange idea of purpose). Whether it is through some form of simplistic clickbait messages or otherwise, helpful it is not. Giving them more attention is unlikely to help either. Unless increasing their feeling of importance is the goal. Not to mention that I have found that it often completely drains me, which, I realize, is just one of my many shortcomings for which nobody else is to be blamed.

So, I feel comfortable enough to ‘speak out’ by liking, sharing or commenting on certain messages as a sign of my support. In my case, it is generally a well-considered choice, as is not liking messages. (On a side note, this also applies on the many requests by authors I get to read their article) It is similarly a well-considered choice not to spend time on correcting, judging or contradicting messages, not even when I think I could. I don’t overrate my ability to make people listen, let alone change their mind.

Furthermore and finally, I simply have too many plans, hopes, dreams and ambitions to allow such a waste of time to creep in. Life’s too short.

3. Regarding the question whether a process or framework (whatever name they chose for themselves) is “Agile”

Regardless whether free-floating opportunists like it or not, there is no denying that the source and roots of all things ‘Agile’ is the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, or the “Agile Manifesto” in short. Whatever gets labeled as “Agile” should by default mean that it is in line with the four value statements and twelve principles of that Manifesto. It is only fair to use that alignment to assess the validity of the claim of the label “Agile”. And although those value statements and principles were expressed in the realm of software development, they are sufficiently generic to be interpreted outside of software development.

In my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” I repeat that “Agile” is not one fixed process, method or practice. In the absence of a concise, specific definition of “the Agile process”, I list and describe three characteristics as the core traits that are common and typical to an Agile way of working:

  • People-centric.
  • Iterative-incremental progress.
  • Value as the measure of success.

I also describe “agility” as the (organizational) state envisioned by moving to an Agile way of working: a state of continuous flux, high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness. It is a state needed to deal with the unpredictability so common to most of today’s work and to the moving markets that organizations operate within. I consciously capitalise “Agile” but not “agility”.

SAFe, like a few other methods, can be many things (helpful or not, who knows) but it is neither Agile, nor is it a framework. SAFe is exactly the sort of process (in the sense of ‘methodology’) as referred to by the signatories of the Agile Manifesto in the first Agile value statement (“INDIVIDUALS and INTERACTIONS over processes and tools”). SAFe turns this statement upside down and reverses the expressed preference, as it does to the 3rd and 4th Agile value statement (and likely even the 2nd). Similar findings can be made about the lack of various aspects of “Agile” highlighted in the twelve principles, like timescales, collaboration, emergence and self-organization. After all, there is a reason why there were no people from RUP invited for the Snowbird gathering.

My hesitance to speak out loudly is not because of my ‘reputation’ (I have none) or commercial or legal consequences. It is because I know first-hand that the best form of promotion that SAFe got in the past was a few global leaders heavily speaking out against it. What they said was correct, well-intended and of high integrity. Still, the effect was people massively looking at SAFe, thereby causing damage and big setbacks in helping the world move away from the paradigm of industrial views and beliefs.

It shows how the statement of my book is true: the old (industrial, Taylorist) paradigm has deep roots and a considerable half-life time. So, let’s hope nobody reads this text if it increases even more interest in a methodology that claims you can change without having to change. And I’ve already spent too much valuable time on it anyhow.

By the way, various other approaches claiming to be “Agile” don’t put people (as human beings) and capitalizing on people’s intelligence and creativity front and center either. Nor are they iterative-incremental. Work is not organized in short cycles allowing and provoking emergence, pivoting and bottom-up knowledge creation. They also aim at pressuring for ‘more’ (volume) instead of discovering ‘better’ (value). They can be useful or helpful (who knows), but they are not “Agile”.

And for the bashers/trolls, I am well aware that many implementations of Scrum suffer from the same problem. At least, it is a problem of interpretation, not of definition. I stand my ground when stating that "Scrum is the most widely adopted definition of Agile".

I don’t abide by it, but the reality is that many, many people don’t care about integrity but prefer (commercial) convenience.

A last, personal example: As part of my ambition and will to deliver a positive contribution, I have developed a Scrum Pocket Class called “Scrum in the Large”. It is based upon the insights on ‘scale’ that I already shared in the first edition of my book, in 2013, which was even before (or maybe at the start of) the whole scaling hype. As most of my public classes, it barely attracts people (it is not what most want to hear), although the people that join generally describe it as a true eye-opener. I accept it as a confirmation of what I stated regarding the matter of importance and impact: my limited impact or recognition rather than being an “important voice” or “Scrumfluencer” (quoting some direct messages).

I’m at peace with that. It’s even good to keep my feet on the ground while being able to sustain my family and do my part of personal caretakery at home. At most, I am a man who took the pain of his youth and transformed it into a mission. It’s an infinite game anyhow. I plant seeds.

your independent Scrum Caretaker

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