“Agile is Failing! Is Lean Next?”

Every Organization or Enterprise involves Business and Technology to deliver value to Clients or Customers. Business focuses on Performance against Intent and Technology focuses on Delivering Solutions. Solutions include products (hardware, software, etc.) and services, and generally anything produced as a result of a Process that Clients or Customers value. To be competitive in the Marketplace, an Organization or Enterprise must be optimal in creating value and responsive to change. Optimization in creating value is achieved through a more Lean approach and responsiveness to change is achieved through a more Agile approach, both involve other proven industry-recognized best practices (values, principles, and techniques).

Generally, Leanness, Agility, and Competitiveness are paradigms, each with core concepts and first principles. Likewise, given the historical context of Six Sigma, it ought to be considered relative to Lean.

Lean focuses on eliminating waste from a process. Six Sigma focuses on reducing variation in a process and reducing defects in a product (or result of a process). Agility focuses on sustainably (efficiently and effectively) recognizing and responding to change. Competitiveness focuses on achieving market dominance or sustainable influence in a market.

“Agile (Software Development) is Failing! Help!” has become the common cry of far too many teams and organizations trying to “do Agile”. When we delve into root causes, we discover an emphasis on Practices (or “doing or transitioning to a set of Practices”) rather than Values and Principles (or “engendering or transforming their Values and Principles”).

Consider: What is of worth to you? What guides your decisions and actions (in any endeavor toward a goal) relative to that which is of worth to you? What actions do you enact (in any endeavor toward a goal) relative to that which guides your decisions and actions and relative to that which is of worth to you?

Values are what we find of worth. Values are eternal and address “why” we do what we do. They establish our ends or goals.

Principles are guides that influence our observations, orientation, decisions, and actions. Principles are essential and address “what” shapes our observations, “what” shapes our orientation, “what” shapes our decisions, and “what” shapes our actions. They influence the means or methods/techniques by which we achieve our ends or goals.

Practices are actions. Practices are contextual and address “how” we enact our decisions as actions. They are the context-specific means or methods/techniques we enact to achieve our ends or goals.

More traditional approaches emphasized Practices more-so and Values and Principles less-so; more modern approaches emphasize Principles and Values more-so and Practices less-so; and perhaps post-modern approaches might emphasize Patterns that bind Values and Principles with emergent Practices based on Context. Generally, there is an awakening to Context.

There are indeed challenges where teams and organizations apply a Transitional Practice-based approach rather than a Transformational Value/Principle-based approach.

But, Is Agile Failing or Are We Failing with Agile?

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5 thoughts on ““Agile is Failing! Is Lean Next?”

  1. Thanks for the articl. I have several concerns with it:

    1. The headline is overly flamboyant and probably false to fact. Agile is growing rapidly. Some Agile projects are not doing as well as they might, and some are failing.

    2. Most of the writers I follow are not attributing the issues to lack of values but to lack of practices. Do the practices get dropped because of values? I’m not sure and think that the idea at least needs support rather than unsupported claims.

    3. The article seems to denigrate actions, favoring values. Yet values accomplish nothing. Only action accomplishes things. Values without action are empty.

    The final question bears consideration. Thanks,

    Ron

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      1. The headline is overly flamboyant and probably false to fact. Agile is growing rapidly. Some Agile projects are not doing as well as they might, and some are failing.

      “Overly flamboyant”, perhaps (but not too far from other blogs), but these observations are definitely “real” (not “false to fact”) as reported by more and more practitioners.

      2. Most of the writers I follow are not attributing the issues to lack of values but to lack of practices. Do the practices get dropped because of values? I’m not sure and think that the idea at least needs support rather than unsupported claims.

      While most writers may continue to focus only on the lack of practices, most practitioners recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness and interdependence between values, principles, and practices (especially relative to scalability and sustainability). The blog entry does not suggest practices get dropped because of values.

      3. The article seems to denigrate actions, favoring values. Yet values accomplish nothing. Only action accomplishes things. Values without action are empty.

      The blog entry does not “denigrate actions, favoring values”, but emphasizes the interconnectedness and interdependence between values, principles, and practices. Without this interconnectedness and interdependence, values, principles, and actions collapse.

      Agreed that “values without action are empty” and likewise non-value-based and non-principle-based actions are equally empty (if not dangerous). Many teams and enterprises adopt Scrum and XP practices without the values (and principles) and when they don’t achieve results, they wonder why! This is the difference between practice-based “transitions” (that only change surface level behavior) and value/principle-based transformation (that changes the DNA of organizations). Considering scale and sustainability, transformation endures!

      Furthermore, when we “inspect and adapt” our practices, what guides us in how we “inspect and adapt”? Values and principles! Thus, without an awareness and appreciation of values and principles, agility is jeopardized.

      Thanks.

  2. Thanks also for the article. But I have concerns with the definition of ‘Agile’ used.

    You say: “Agility focuses on sustainably (efficiently and effectively) recognizing and responding to change.” This does not sound like Agile to me. ‘Agile’ is term created at a meeting in 1999 or 2000 and defined by the Agile Manifesto. Agility is a set a attributes best described as collabortion. It does not, like eXteme Programming, include any processes, just attitudes. So comparing Agile as you have does not make sense to me. It sounds like you meant XP.

    Agile is a collaborative approach that can be applied to just about any Methodology such as Lean, Six Sigma, etc.

    Best regards

    Rob Smyth

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      ‘Agile’ is term created at a meeting in 1999 or 2000 and defined by the Agile Manifesto.

      Agile was not created at a meeting in 1999 or 2000 and defined by the Agile Manifesto. Agility significantly predates the Agile Manifesto. Actually, Agility is best described by John Boyd’s O-O-D-A.

      Thanks.

  3. Your comments on Ron’s response is very apt. It is time we all face the facts of Agile failing in organizations who try to adopt them for “lip service”. I remember a great quote of Tom Peters from his book “Thriving on Chaos” where he says” Quality programs fail for two reasons; they have Passion without Systems or Systems without Passion” . This is what we need to understand and address when attempting to embrace Agile.

    Cheers

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