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The Death of Agile


Just as we are getting used to the idea that HR needs to be “agile”, we are finding people saying agile is dead. Most notable of these critics is Dave Thomas; he’s notable because he was one of the authors of the original Agile Manifesto.

What does this mean to HR? Well, it doesn’t mean we should be dropping the idea of agile. Thomas says, “Agile is dead. Long live agility!” Well, what does that mean? It means that the fundamental ideas of agility are relevant, however, the industry that has grown up around agile has created a laborious mystique about scrum masters, sprints, and daily stand-up meetings.

The essence of the agile approach is to do a little, check with customers if it’s on track, adjust accordingly, and then do a little more. It makes the most sense in contrast to approaches where teams go away for a long period, produce a polished final product, then present it to customers hoping it’s what they need.

HR needs to focus on the essence of agile, not the techniques.

Lessons for other management processes

Many management processes have a similar dynamic. At heart, there is a simple, wise insight, that provides an alternative way of approaching things. The success of the process relies on the skill of managers in applying the ideas to their particular situation and in their discipline of staying true to the new approach.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency, especially when consultants are involved (yes, I’m a consultant too, mea culpa), to turn simple principles into complex processes—ideally involving certifications. These complexities undermine the effectiveness of the process they are meant to support.

The main thing I’ve learned about management processes

In undergrad, I studied biochemistry and the functioning of a cell is truly complex and intricate. I’ve spent decades in management unlearning the idea that management is like biochemistry. There is almost nothing complex and intricate to learn in management. There is a lot of subtlety, there is a need to understand tradeoffs, and there is a need to see the value of things that are not quite right but still directionally correct.

We get good management from experience, reflection, reading, and conversation. We come across the idea of agile and we see our work from a new perspective. That’s where the real value is; it’s the perspective, not the certifications and techniques. Be agile by being true to the spirit of the original agile manifesto.


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