Don’t be an Agile Zombie

Badge - Zombie Coach by Day, Zombie Slayer by Night We have managed to trace patient zero to a ski lodge in Utah back in February 2001 where seventeen people got together to write the Agile manifesto.

It all started innocently with the transmission of Agile values and principals throughout the software development community. The clear benefits in productivity, quality and value spread the Agile virus further within organisations, expanding from software into firmware, hardware, sales, marketing, finance, governance and beyond.

The crisis point for the contagion was reached in 2008 when Agile became the most popular method of software development. With Agile projects showing three times the success and a third of the failures of traditional methods, the common transmission vectors of training organisations and consultancies transmitted Agile wider.

Agile Zombie Scrum Master

From this tipping point, Agile zombies began to appear. You can see the early symptoms of people listlessly following a defined process after a day’s training with no awareness of the mindset or cultural shift required. Their eyes appear dull as they shuffle towards the daily scrum to go through the motions of answering the same three questions in a flat tone – what did I do yesterday, what will I do today and what impediments do I have?

Sprint reviews become demonstrations or even show-and-tells, with little customer involvement and practically no feedback. Retrospectives progress through talking shops where everyone can vent, to simply being skipped “because we are so busy”.

Even Agile roles become corrupted, in Scrum the developers keep their original department titles, Scrum Masters are named Team Leaders and Product Owners gain a ‘Proxy’ or ‘Technical’ prefix.

The revolution of empirical process control that was promised with Agile can evaporate under the blind adoption of practices without the necessary understanding. So how can we contain the outbreak and inoculate against the Agile zombie pandemic? We achieve this with a treatment plan:

  1. Start by teaching Agile values and principles to give a clear foundation to the mindset change expected. Empowering teams via the Agile manifesto leads to stronger high-performing teams.
  2. Workshop with individual teams on communication, collaboration, facilitation and the behaviours required in order to provide the necessary soft skills. Also introduce fun, innovation and continuous learning as aspects of a team’s daily work.
  3. Provide experienced Agile coaches to support teams and mentor individuals in transforming development. Teams need to challenge the status quo and push through artificial barriers.
  4. Work towards organisational change to support Agile teams. Transformation at a team level is a good start but becomes insufficient over time, wider change is needed to reinforce and advance it.
  5. Promote supporting practices including DevOps, Cloud, Lean, Lean Startup and the product model
  6. A single strategic medium-term audacious goal should be created to give the organisation a strong vision and align the employees of the business in working closely together. The book Built to Last includes more information on Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG). Notable examples include:
    • SpaceX: Enable human exploration and settlement of Mars.
    • Facebook: To make the world more open and connected.
    • Google: Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
    • Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation: To cure blood cancer through marrow donation by ensuring a match for every patient in need, whenever they need one.

    and more historically:

    • John F. Kennedy, 1960: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.
    • Bill Gates, 1975: A computer on every desk and in every home.
  1. Lastly, enjoy your work – happy employees are more productive. Truly empower teams, trust them to get work done, support them to achieve this, continually improve and focus on delighting your customers.

Together we can beat it, keep safe out there.
Scrum Ronin

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