I came across few articles on web forums/blogs talking about – whether Agile is a Religion or just a set of tools or process frameworks. I thought of introspecting the Agile concepts from religious angle. A holistic analysis of human-centric aspects of Agile methodologies, both the software process improvement frameworks (e.g. Scrum, Kanban …) and engineering frameworks (e.g. XP); depicts that it is more than just a set of tools, techniques and practices. Agile and Religion, both exhibit some common traits from aesthetic views.
Why it’s a religion?
“A religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.” Similarly we can says that, “Agile is an organized set of Values and Principles supported by set of Rules, Practices, Events and Ceremonies with Goal to efficient Software Development leading to customer delight.”
It’s based on Values and Principles –
Agile manifesto, aka bible to Agile practitioners; defines working framework on Values and Principles. This becomes the basis to define the individuals and teams behavior and agility; which together brings Agile culture in organization.
Manifesto gives more emphasis to four values (Individuals and interactions, Working software, Customer Collaboration and Responding to Change); whereas other four alternatives (Processes and Tools, Comprehensive Documentation, Contract Negotiation and Following a Plan) are also not discouraged to be followed. Alternatives are perceived to be of low-value mostly due to being cost centers, risk oriented and more aligned to conventional project management styles. The ultimate goal behind embracing these values and principles is – “Agility”, which leads to “Customer Satisfaction”.
Agile values humane behaviors of individuals and team to express the need to excel mutual-trust, motivation, mutual-respect, joint ownership, collaboration and working together to achieve shared goals and responsibilities.
Organization and management should provide environment and support to teams for local decision-making, transparency, knowledge sharing, competency improvement, and allow to decide their goals and approach achieve end-goal with continuous improvement.
It’s Goal oriented –
The methodologies advocates of having both short-term and long-term goals. These goals are mostly set by Product owners, customer, management or self-organizing team itself. Individual team members work towards achieving these goals. For instance, team could have short-term goal of sprint deliverables and long-term goal to continuous improvement, sprint-by-sprint better productivity and very importantly, customer satisfaction. Goals are set at beginning of project / sprints and every team members are obliged and committed to it.
A true agile team consistently endeavors to achieve their goals collectively through working to their utmost capacity; removing impediments and improving on observation made during retrospective ceremonies. More or less the goals are same for entire team – self-improvement for the entire project life and the results are visible through deliverables and increments. Sprint results are reflective of team and individual member’s goal; in the form of increments, velocity and progress charts (burn-down and/or burn-up).
It’s supported by Rules & Practices –
Agile Values and Principles implicitly provide certain defined standard of activities, termed as Rules and Practices; which are open to interpretation and adaptation. These rules are related to but not limited to aspects like – sprint length, sprint planning, sprint review, sprint ceremonies, retrospective meetings, backlog grooming, team composition, team members roles and their contribution, communication and collaboration needs etc. Agilists are supposed to follow these rules and such actions lead to intellectual changes to individuals and their approach to owner the Values and Principles directly or indirectly.
Many flavors of methodology standardization originated from the level of interpretation to Agile and organizational needs – viz. Scrum, Kanban, Extreme, Scrumban, SAFe etc. These methodologies provide specific set of rules, practices and team structures. This will keep evolving based on best practices realization and future needs, leading to better and better model. Adaption to such emergence of Agile evolutions are very much possible as long as Agile fundamentals are not jeopardized.
Have Events and Ceremonies –
Agile events and ceremonies like – daily stand-ups, sprint or release retrospectives, end of release ceremony and sprint/release planning etc. are followed and preached religiously by Agile mentors and followers. Regularly there are some small or big events at specific period that are highly valued and are practiced as part of the process.
These ceremonies help teams to introspect to find process gaps, short-comings, what went good and bad, improvement areas. Team jointly accept errors as team-outcome and not to blame self or others, focus on issues rather than people, look forward and take lesson from the past events and so on so forth. Every team members are invited to participate in these events and ceremonies. Retrospectives are accepted as team bonding events and if somebody misses, than they are briefed and updated on the meeting outcomes.
Have Mentors and Followers –
Agile teams are the followers and Agile Coach, Evangelists are mentors and preachers. Agile Coach have authority, experience, trust, good social skills, and obviously a firm believers to Agile. These people practice what they preach and acts as role model. Such people have long term obligations and responsibilities to address agile concerns, come up with new idea to enhance model and framework.
Team follows principle of respect, equality, active participation, non-competitiveness, self-improvement, collaboration, and mutual-help. Team make and take decision to reach short-term goals (sprints) and long-term goals of continuous improvement, productivity, customer satisfaction, and self-fulfillment.
Normally, teams are assisted by scrum masters, who need to have desired skills and personality to be accepted by team. They acts as servant-leader and are the voice of and messengers to the team. Their jobs are to save team from external influences, help to improve performance by eliminating impediments and achieve goals.
What about its religious acceptance and adaption?
Over the years, Agile practitioners have followed the religious style of implementation – preach, teach, make people to believe, engage them to contribute and become change agents. It’s also needed that non-agilist are nurtured, educated and motivated to be a firm believers and practitioners to Agile. Agile model’s transparency, experimental approach and collective responsibility seem to have produced greater trust and happiness. Project team, customer and organization reap the benefits of Agile practices. That’s the reason, while we accept and adapt to Agile, it make sense to keep the fire burning, being aware of and renouncing the bad habits related to practices and processes etc. Processes need to managed and monitored to improve with the help of metrics, transparency, and being goal oriented.
Often there is coffee table discussion and arguments on “True Agile” and “Fragile” ways. Some Agile detractors would argue that manifesto does not clearly defines the directives that should be followed by agile team. Merely having values and principles defined are not sufficient, you need standardized processes and directives to achieve these values and principles. It is left open to practitioner’s interpretation and find own methods of implementation. That is the reasons many more Agile methodologies are in practice today. In fact such arguments are good and a kind of introspection to find the best ways to practice suitable Agile project management in given scenario. Also Agile Evangelists takes these fragmented concepts to innovate new practices and methodologies for overall organizational benefits in executing projects / programs.
Today, there are many Agile methodologies which are being practiced in silos or with mix-match whatever works best in given context. Using the right mix of best practices and hybrid approach of blending various Agile methodologies like – Scrum + XP + Lean; or Scrum + Kanban etc. normally fill the gaps.
Whether Agile is religion or just tools and frameworks, the bottom line is that today, more and more organizations have realized the benefits of gracefully adapting to Agile ways and the trend continue to grow rapidly; renouncing the age old conventional style of project management and software development. Every methodologies have some limitations and may work well in some context and may not suite in others. It might need to be tailored for better adaptability and suitability as required to realize maximum benefits. Looking at the facts Agile proven to be a better alternatives to age old problems. Agile is for sure have scaled up with improvement from its predecessors, and definitely this is not the end. We may witness another waves of improved and refined software development methodologies in future. Concepts like Scrum of Scrums, Scaled Agile (SAFe) and Agile DevOps are the example of such evolution.
Kindly share your thoughts and comments, whether you agree or disagree to my opinion and observation.
[Note: This article was published earlier as titled “Agile and Religion”. Republishing with changed post title and makeover.]