In recent years, I have had numerous opportunities to share my insights through various talks, with one becoming more popular than others – “The Velocity Trap.” This particular presentation, shared over a dozen times in public forums, emerged from my observations within the technology circles I frequent and the clients and companies I have worked with. Despite the prevalence of terms like Scrum, sprints, story points, and SAFe, there was a noticeable lack of awareness regarding the Agile Manifesto, prompting me to embark on a mission of evangelization.
The Timeless Manifesto: An Agilist’s Declaration
Upon examining the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development,” one is met with a virtual time capsule that has endured for over two decades. Unchanged, its simplicity is both a beauty and a testament to its enduring message. However, this static nature is also a poignant reminder of the absence of iteration, updates, or enhancements over the years. The basic HTML code, featuring outdated practices, like meta keywords, and a lack of modern coding structures, serves as a striking contrast to the dynamic, iterative development principles it champions. Something that Joshua Kerievsky highlights in Modern Agile, and something Carlus Henry has poked fun at by stating, “The Agile Manifesto is the only thing developed by developers over 20 years ago that isn’t considered legacy.”
Despite its unaltered state, the manifesto encapsulates the essence of timeless ideas that have evolved into a phenomenon transcending the expectations of its creators. The passionate debates surrounding its nature – is it a methodology, approach, philosophy, mindset, movement – are ongoing. Yet, at its core, it remains a declaration, a manifesto, devoid of extensive descriptions, how-tos, or guides. With just four values and twelve principles, it serves as a compass for those embracing Agile.
Navigating the Agile Landscape: Buzzwords and Misinformation
The most frequently echoed value, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools,” seems paradoxically overshadowed by an industry fixated on processes and tools. The Agile industry, dominated by certifications and the allure of frameworks, has veered toward a myopic focus on efficiency, often neglecting the essence of “Agile Software Development.” This imbalance has led to a distorted reality, identified by John Cutler as a “feature factory,” emphasizing quantity over quality.
The popularity of buzzwords and the ease of packaging and reselling process-focused approaches have empowered those who seek to capitalize on this situation and perpetuates widespread misinformation. This confusion traces back to the industry’s fixation on processes, notably influenced by The Project Management Institute. This institute, often considered the cornerstone of project management knowledge, leans heavily towards process and repeatability that has lent itself to dogmatism. An approach that has frequently been labeled as the antithesis of agility.
Moreover, the overwhelming reliance on the Scrum framework, adopted by 87% of organizations attempting Agile, adds another layer to the complexity. Notably, Scrum is intentionally incomplete, emphasizing rules for team dynamics and requirements coordination. However, it curiously lacks explicit guidance or even a reference to the “software development” aspect of Agile Software Development. The situation is compounded by Scrum’s unique values, which have struggled to maintain relevance, evident in their omission across various versions of the guide. Adding to the confusion is the author of the Scrum Guide, and one of the original signatories of the Agile Manifesto, who ironically published a book titled “Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time,” further diluting the message of our Agile forefathers.
Beyond Processes and Tools: The Agile Imperative
The Agile Manifesto, however, offers explicit guidance in its first principle: “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” Clearly stating that our focus is to provide value to our customers. Yet, in the pursuit of agility, many tend to overlook the broader sentiment, focusing solely on “early and continuous delivery,” resulting in a fixation of iterative and incremental development practices without context.
The oversight becomes apparent when one realizes that Agile, as outlined in the manifesto, aligns more with Product Thinking than Project Management. For those embracing Agile values and principles, one need not look further than this first value and first principle to know that their focus should extend beyond processes and tools to more heavily fixate on the well-being of individuals. Conversations should revolve around impact in terms of value delivery, not merely the delivery of code or work items. The maturity of an Agile organization lies not in its practices or tools but in its capacity to provide value to its customers. This issue is at the heart of “The Velocity Trap,” highlighting the need for a paradigm shift in Agile thinking.
In future writings I will highlight how The Velocity Trap manifests in organizations, and how it acquired its name from an observed organizational emphasis on outputs over outcomes, or productivity over value creation.