The Agile Theater

We’ve all seen it. It’s quite an elaborate show with Scrum Masters, Sprint Planning, Daily Standups, Secret handshakes, a lot of artifacts, ceremonies, roles. The recent “broadway”-level productions include bigger pictures, more roles, artifacts.

It is like visiting the city set in that classic Universal Studio ride. Excellent production value but not really a working city.

When we go to Universal Studios or a Broadway show we know it’s just a facade for our amusement/entertainment. When we do the Agile Theater in our organizations we think we’re doing the real thing. Now that’s a problem!

I’ve heard one time too many the executive telling me “We are already agile here” and right after that describe to me the reality of unfocused teams, too much going on at one time, slow progress with rare delivery to production due to long testing cycles, quality issues due to buggy and complex code, reliance on super-heroes to save the day and all kinds of things that sound nothing like the other really agile organizations I’m working with.

Before, those people would realize they are using an obsolete way of working and would be motivated to do something about it. But with the Agile Theater many of them feel like they already did what they could using the “latest and greatest” approach whether it be Scrum, Scaled Agile Framework, or whatever other flavor of the day is currently en vogue. This is frustrating.

I’m glad more and more people are seeing the Agile Theater for what it is and starting to look for deeper answers. I’m also glad to see more and more thought leaders in the agile community invest energies in exposing this theater.

But the hard part actually comes after getting rid of the theater. With do you do afterwards? Our answer at AgileSparks is to invest time in making sure you understand the underlying principles driving agility, why the practices in Scrum, SAFe and other frameworks work, and invite people in the organization to structure their own approach that provides them with the agility that they need based on those common starting points. This takes more time than copycatting a big picture. It requires attention. It typically shows the painful truths about the organization that the theater was so good at covering. You have to do something about it. Or you don’t. But at least you know where you really are, not living in an illusion that is keeping you stuck in place.

The curtain is closing. The show is almost over. Now let’s get to work on the tough problem of achieving real agility. Who’s with me?

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