Peak Agile: A key problem with us “Agile” change agents

April 1, 2018 by Marshall Guillory

I’m going to do a quick retro here for the entire Agile community.

Some of you will not like it.

Some of you will hate it.

We all own it.

You are probably NOT an Agile expert.

It is interesting. This phenomenon of massive growth in “Agile” experts. Hell, I’m one of them. Guilty as charged. I am no expert.

Why? We are all fighting for our piece of the pie eh? I doubt it is purely altruistic motivations if we are being honest here. Some are more selfless than others certainly. 

A little background

I officially started my “public” Agile learning and growth journey in September of 2012 when I founded and launched a startup consulting firm called Synergy Agile Process Solutions. My main idea was to create a marketplace for ideas. The “Synergy Agile Marketplace,” I had called it. I thought about all the time I had wasted over the years trying to learn complicated and complex things and having to do all the groundwork and research myself. The “SAM” was supposed to accelerate the learning process for everyone in the space. An open source community of ideas. Free from the ridiculousness of copyrights and “my cheese” attitudes towards knowledge sharing. Sure, you’d get paid for your ideas too, but also share at the same time. A bird in the hand kind of process.

It was an abysmal failure. The business outcome was that I spent an enormous amount of time away from my young family building out the web application and tooling, marketing, et cetera and had zero return in the form of dollars. I did some consulting to make ends meet. I did, however, learn many important lessons. Lessons I already had received and new ones.

Don’t trust people that you haven’t built a relationship with. Don’t tackle big ideas on your own. Ask for help. Never give up. Timing is everything. It takes an investment to make big things happen.

A good friend and massively inspiring gentleman, Jon Christley, told me after reviewing the SAM idea, “Marshall, I think the concept is ahead of its time.” I think it was a nice way of saying, “uhh I think you are wasting your time.” All kidding aside, I got the message and Jon is still a great person.

So, I learned and moved on to a new experiment.

Unofficially, I’ve been “Agile” at heart for my entire life. I’ve never been a conformist. Nor a rigid thinker bound by reductionist mindset. I’m naturally “Agile.” I could tell many stories about me arguing with my carpenter grandfather and my father about wasted steps in the building process. “Do it that way because I told you so.”

Of course, my formal education and business college was poisoned by the industrial age thinkers. The Taylorists and their regressive behavior towards people that do the work. I made many, many mistakes in my career as a leader and manager. I accept my faults and failures. But, I was working in a broken system. I say. They say. We say.

Fast forward to Peak Agile

So many experts and talking heads out there at keynotes and summits and writing books and blogs and so forth. They do it for marketing purposes I’ve learned. Consulting 101. Set yourself apart from others.

I’ve seen many articles and social media posts by “thought leaders”, “Agile experts”, and “Organizational transformation experts” deriding the “fools who relabeled their resumes into Agile experts.”

Then there is the all too familiar transition from the reductionist project manager or manager role to the freshly minted “Agile Project Manager”, or the famous “Scrum master.” All within one job change. Isn’t that one great!

Then there are of course the tooling wars. “My framework is better than yours.” And my personal favorite, “your framework/idea is based on pseudo-science.”

All of this to say

You are probably just experienced with Agile.

Writing a book or a blog or owning a consulting company or being a VP or principal consultant or fellow or methodologist at an “Agile” something doesn’t make you an expert. It doesn’t make you an authority on the topic. Even the 17 folks that wrote down the manifesto for agile software development are not automatically “experts” at this thing we call Agile.

Success doesn’t make you an expert. Probably, mostly, …just lucky.

This [Agile] field of management theory is simply too young to have enough data to produce a true expert.

Stop being a @#$%@

The worst offenders from those who have experience at “Agile” in organizations and have studied behavior and/or psychology of organizations are those that use that experience to beat down others. Such negative, derisive bad behavior. The damaging, non-productive commentary is almost always hidden behind a wall of easy to achieve certifications, acronyms, “I have authoritative better than your experience at blah blah”, and other bullshit.

There is some evidence that much of the entire body of management and psychology theory out there in the wild is insufficient at driving reliable outcomes in business. I think almost everyone will agree. So, why do some people feel the need to trash ideas? The very thing that will help us move towards a solution to this people and collaboration problem.

But there have been successes, Marshall

YES. And it is passionate, highly motivated people and teams that make it happen. Not theories, tools, frameworks, systems thinking, processes, methods, techniques, products, software, hardware or acronyms.

Do you want to be an expert? Get a Ph.D. in I/O psychology.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology
The specialty of industrial-organizational psychology (also called I/O psychology) is characterized by the scientific study of human behavior in organizations and the work place. The specialty focuses on deriving principles of individual, group and organizational behavior and applying this knowledge to the solution of problems at work.

There are people that have spent much of their lives studying organizational behavior and psychology. Doctors of Philosophy who use the scientific method to gather evidence to support theories of management. Deming is well known. Many others in the field too.

BUT, even with all that knowledge and theory, there is still, in 2018, NO SILVER BULLET.

What does that tell us?

WE STILL DON’T KNOW ENOUGH.

Well, actually, we do have what we need but it is a taboo topic in the business & professional world we live in. Perhaps we just haven’t decoded it enough yet for business.

So please, for all that is good in this world. Challenge ideas. But stop being rude, condescending, dishonest, disrespectful, selfish, and hateful. Learning stops when bad behavior starts.

Integrity is everything in the long-term viability of a business. The Agile revolution will not survive if the community does not start showing some integrity. Do the right thing even when it doesn’t fit your agenda.

Keep learning my friends. I am just a guy that has experienced stuff.

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