“Agile Works”. Well, prove it!


Over the last few years I have been getting more and more fed up with some so-called Agile evangelists. Somehow making an Agile organization is the magic to curing all problems. Agile is so great that it seems to be a goal in and of itself. Let me put it bluntly: I think that is total rubbish.

Do not get me wrong, I love almost everything about Agile. I’ve been an Agile coach for most of the last decade and helped many organizations make the transition. And I agree that it works. But let’s not kid ourselves, Agile is not the goal, it is a way of solving business problems. It is a process improvement that should prove it works, and if not it needs to be adjusted or just thrown out completely.

Organizations invest in lots of things ranging from new factories and marketing campaigns to coaching from people like me. For a marketing campaign it is totally logical to measure its effectiveness and take decisions as to its future based on that. If a factory creates great products and everybody there is happy, but we lose a lot of money on it every day, guess how long it stays open. So why should Agile be any different? Agile, while being really great should be treated no different. It should prove that it is a success; not only based on believe but in cold, hard, figures.

I had a conversation a while back with a fellow Agile Coach. He had been engaged in an Agile transformation that got cancelled by management. During the discussion the reasons became clear; while he thought things were going fine (the teams were adopting Scrum just fine, the process was in place, people were reasonably happy), management was not convinced and decided to stop investing in what they perceived to be a money pit. The failure here was not in Agile itself, but in failing to establish what success means, failing to measure, and failing to show management in their terms that things are working. If you don’t do that things will fall apart quickly, as it did in his case.

To avoid problems like this starting out thinking about how results will be proven and presented is crucial. We need to define what a success means for a specific situation. What problem are we trying to solve? How can we measure the current state and can we measure how things are progressing as we go? How can we present results in a clear and concise manner that is easy to understand?

In short: Agile is great, and I firmly believe it works in almost any setting. But if you cannot prove it does, your Agile transformation will, and should, be cancelled.