The Agile Industrial Complex

(NOTE: This page provides a summary of background information on The Agile Imposition and the Agile Industrial Complex. This information is particularly useful for those joining the conversation on Twitter found under the hashtag #AIC42 and via replies and Tweets to and from @DanielMezick)


A nearly 100% tolerance of the coercive imposing of Agile practices on teams is a cultural norm of the Agile industry. This tolerance of force is profoundly disrespectful of people. This is the most pressing issue of our time.

Agile leaders have almost nothing to say about the dangers of this widespread tolerance of imposition. Specifically, they almost never issue protective warnings or protests of any kind from the Agile conference podium, as leaders of keynotes, sessions, and workshops.

The Agile industry can make a big, serious, POSITIVE impact in the world, but not until this near-100% tolerance of imposition is reversed.


Once Upon a Time in Agile Software Development

Once upon a time, software development was viewed as a manufacturing process. A “defined process.”

“Project management” was used to manage the “defined process.”

That did not actually work out very well.

Late software projects (complete with glaring defects and cost overruns) became the norm.

After a while, some smart folks figured out that this was kind of dumb. Software development, they said, was best described as an “empirical process.” And that “empirical process control” was a better method for managing software projects.

Around 2001, many of the smart folks met and wrote down 4 core values and 12 supporting principles.

The “Agile Manifesto” was born, and with it, a movement.

The movement was lively and brisk. The results generated by those who used Agile methods was impressive.

The Agile methods created great outcomes, real human engagement and even happiness in the workplace. People started buzzing about Agile software development.

Before long an “Agile community” sprouted. Training became widely available, and suddenly “certifications” appeared. Consultants started specializing in “Agile coaching.”



Slowly but surely, an industry took shape. The Agile industry.

The major players in the emerging Agile industry included the institutions, the Agile consulting firms, the tooling vendors, and all of the practitioners.

And a special subset of the practitioners, the “Agile leaders” or “Agile thought leaders.”

“Agile conferences” became commonplace.

The Agile industry was led by the “Agile leaders” of various kinds, most of whom dispensed their wisdom and wit from the many and various Agile conference podiums.

Before long, millions of people throughout the world were affected in some way by “Agile software development” as delivered by the growing Agile industry.

The original founding document, the Agile Manifesto, contained very excellent guidance.

Part of the Agile Manifesto guidance encouraged “self organizing teams.”

Another part encouraged building projects around “motivated individuals.”

This great guidance was often difficult for executives to understand, let alone implement.

They wanted “faster-better-cheaper,” and “more predictable,” and did not understand the very strong link between team decision-making and some potentially very huge gains in productivity.


Before long, the excellent guidance of the Agile Manifesto began to interfere with the business of the Agile industry.


After a while, the excellent guidance the Agile Manifesto provided was often skipped over quickly, and in many cases, it was even completely ignored.

As the Agile practices were decoupled from the 12 principles, it became normal to simply “roll out” an “Agile transformation” by prescribing “Agile processes and practices,” and then, making teams follow those processes and practices.

Or else.

The imposition of Agile practices on teams became standard operating procedure. It became normal. It became tolerated. It became widely accepted and OK.

This tended to reduce the number of “motivated individuals” and “self organizing teams.”

And then…without warning… seemingly without intent… the Agile Industrial Complex was born.






The Agile learning & innovation community slowly morphed and changed… into the “Agile Industrial Complex.” The Agile Industrial Complex perpetuates a weaponized form of Agile. The Agile Industrial Complex weaponizes Agile by optimizing on “transactions over transformations.”

That is, while there is value in the transformations, the real money is in the transactions.

A Protective Warning

One original Agile Manifesto signatory put it best with a protective warning. Circa 2006 …

As a methodology or design approach becomes fashionable, then we see a lot people using it, or teaching it, who are focusing on the fashion rather than the real details. This can lead to reports of things done in agile’s name which are a polar opposite to the principles of movement’s founders.  Drifting around the web I’ve heard a few comments about agile methods being imposed on a development team by upper management. Imposing a process on a team is completely opposed to the principles of agile software, and has been since its inception.

… imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods.”

…I’d rather have a team work in a non-agile manner they chose themselves than have my favorite agile practices imposed upon them.”

Martin Fowler, original Agile Manifesto signatory. From the blog post, “The Agile Imposition” circa 2006. (link)


The Agile Institutions

The institutions perpetuate the Agile Industrial Complex.

They grow revenues by the millions, in part by sidestepping the awkward truth: Agile is routinely forced on teams, throughout the world, in conflict with the most fundamental of Lean/Agile principles, namely: Respect for People.

The institutions say nothing in protest about this.


The Agile Leaders

Agile “thought leaders” perpetuate the Agile Industrial Complex.

Those who occupy this role routinely extol the virtue of team autonomy and “pull” even as they say nothing at all about about the force, the coercion and the “push” that is at root of almost every problem in almost every so-called “transformation” today.

Those who aspire to thought leadership learn to say all the right things, and keep their mouths shut regarding the inconvenient truth about the largest influence on Agile culture today: the Agile Industrial Complex.



The Agile Enablement/Consulting Firms

The Agile consulting firms perpetuate the Agile Industrial Complex.

These organizations represent the standing army.

These service firms know that force, coercion and “push” is what well-meaning execs assume will actually work, and what actually sells.

Put another way: these service firms know that awkward conversations about respect, self-management and self-organization do not really sell very well. And so it’s always best to avoid these conversations.

As rational business-creatures, these “Agile enablement firms” instead tell executives exactly what they want to hear, in service to selling as many Agile services as they possibly can, as quickly as they can. Genuinely educating executives in advance about Lean/Agile principles like “respect for people” or “self organizing teams” works against those goals, or even worse, derails the whole sale.

A sale which is often in the many millions of dollars…




The Agile community is now the Agile Industrial Complex.  It is that web of Agile institutions, Agile thought leaders and Agile consulting firms that implicitly collude to make normal the very harmful and disrespectful imposition of Agile practices on teams without consent.

The Agile space is now a “no-innovation zone.” It tolerates and in fact perpetuates a highly weaponized version of Agile. Coercion, command-and-control, force, and the routine mandating of specific practices are how this game is played. The Agile Industrial Complex perpetuates and then monetizes a culture of coercion and force.

The result is a worldwide pandemic of highly prescriptive, enterprise-wide Agile “trance formations.



My Tweets on this starting on or about December 08, 2016, began to take on a more assertive tone regarding the dynamics, culture and norms of The Agile Industrial Complex.

On Twitter, I make two specific and related assertions, each of which easily is falsified by contrary evidence.

But first, the definitions:

Agile leaders: Those who are invited to speak at Agile conference keynotes, sessions and workshops, those who author books on Agile, those who arrange conferences and invite keynote and session speakers, those who lead “Agile enablement firms”, and those who are generally more prominent than the average member in the Agile community. Mostly, Agile leaders are the more prominent individuals at Agile conferences, showing up as leaders of keynotes, sessions and workshops.


Agile industry: The Agile institutions, the Agile enablement firms, all of the Agile service professionals, and all of the client organizations that are served by them. Also, the Agile leaders.


And now for the assertions:


Assertion #1

A nearly 100% tolerance of the coercive imposing of Agile practices on teams is a cultural norm of the Agile industry.


Assertion #2

Agile leaders as defined above have almost nothing to say about the dangers of this widespread tolerance of imposition. Specifically, they almost never issue protective warnings or protests about imposition from the Agile conference podium, as leaders of keynotes, sessions, and workshops; and/or inside public blog posts and essays.


Participants in the conversation are invited to refute these assertions by “falsifying” them. To falsify an assertion, simply produce evidence that is contrary to it, and thereby prove it false.

My basic hypothesis is that producing contrary evidence to the assertions above is currently rather difficult indeed.

The Agile industry can make a big, serious, POSITIVE impact in the world, but not until this near-100% tolerance of imposition is reversed.




Who Is Successfully Falsifying These Assertions Today?

The assertions are easy to falsify. Just produce evidence of Agile leaders actually issuing protective warning or protests about the pandemic of imposing Agile practices on teams, ideally during public conference keynotes.

Or, show clear and verifiable evidence of Agile-industry intolerance for the coercive imposing of Agile practices.

Here are some emerging examples of Agile leaders actually issuing protective warnings and protests about the problem:








Here’s the outliers. These are the men and women who are protesting and warning about the harm and hypocrisy of imposing (“pushing”) Agile practices on teams. The courageous and real Agile leaders who are prompting a rather awkward conversation in the Agile Industry.

I assert that those Agile leaders who are absent from this list are in fact perpetuating THE AGILE INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX.

The people listed below are signaling through their speaking, writing and actions that they are the real-deal. The genuine article.

In the wider scheme of things, it’s a very short list. What’s super-notable about this is who is missing…  it’s MOST of the people who are supposedly “leading agile thought” in the Agile industry!!

Question: Where are these people when we need them?

These folks, listed below, are the real deal. NOTE: if you are a conference organizer that brings Real Agile Thought Leaders to your session and keynoted podiums, then you are in fact a Real Agile Thought Leader.


As of early November 2017, management consultant Jon Jorgensen is saying it quite plainly:

The most pressing challenge facing the agile industry today is: Coercion in the workplace masquerading as ‘Agile.’  I think the near 100% tolerance for imposed Agile is a big huge problem, and it is by far the biggest issue facing the Agile industry today.

“I’m writing this blog to issue a Protective Warning: You’re probably wasting a lot of money on agile coaching, training, facilitating and consulting. People attempt to do Agile transformations on their company quite often nowadays. Unfortunately, they fall victim to consultants who do not share their interests.  -Especially large, well-known consulting firms are the worst offenders.”


  • As of October 2017, the organizers of AGILE CINCINNATI including Darren Terrell and Diana Williams, invited me to keynote their event. Wow:
  • They purchased over 300 copies of the OPENSPACE AGILITY HANDBOOK and made sure everyone who attended the conference received a copy.
  • Darrel and Diana then went further and arranged OSA Workshops before and after the event in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
  • And THEN they *also* put me in front of over 79 Agile enthusiasts at AGILE INDY, where I discussed the strength of invitation over imposition.

Darren and Diana are emblematic of what the new thought leadership actually looks like !!



As of October 2017,  Nuno Rafael Gomes is saying things like this in public blog posts:

“…Agility is about invitation…Organizational agility should also begin with an invitation….a partner should never impose or push change: agile adopted in a non-agile way is not agile and will never be sustainable in the long run.



As of September 2017, Kent McDonald is saying these things in his published essay, “The Agile Industrial Complex: Solution over context?

“…Don’t seek to adopt agile, or lean, or SAFe, and certainly don’t impose those practices on your teams.”



As of 6/5/2017, Ron Jeffries (Agile Manifesto co-author and signatory) is saying these things in his published essay, “Twice the Effort All The Time” ….

“So…Agile has moved …into a world where “decision makers,” who don’t even know what it is, decide that those guys down there need some of that Agile Stuff and impose it – impose something – on their organization. I don’t like that.”

“This is pretty much how it goes…with most “Agile transformations” in large organizations. You throw a bunch of [programmers] into…imposed “Agile”…and you get some benefit. Often it’s just Twice the Effort All the Time, but you can usually squeeze a little more juice out if you press hard enough.”

Earlier, in his essay Dark Scrum, Ron said:

“Every day, the team is supposed to get together and organize the day’s work. This practice, the ‘Daily Scrum’, is imposed on the typical team…Dark Scrum oppresses the team every day. Self-organization cannot emerge.

“The things that happen in Dark Scrum are abuses….It might seem that there’s nothing a development team can do but accept oppression. Fortunately, that’s not the case. ”



On 05/30-31/2017,  Jean Pierre Berchez and the organizers of the SCRUM DAY 2017 event in Stuttgart Germany invited me to the opening keynote to discuss the virtue and the highly efficient nature of human agency, inclusion, informed consent and opt-in participation in Agile adoptions. The conference keynote podium was opened wide to the presentation of these ideas, and as a result, over 400++ Agile professionals learned about the very strong links between opt-in engagement, self-management, and enterprise-wide KPI improvement. (with very special thanks to Alisa Stolze!!)



On 12/19/16, Agile leader Chris Matts posted the essay [Cultural Debt], where he says: “..Imposing Agile on teams and individuals is completely opposed to the principles and values of Agile…As soon as a manager forces a team to adopt Agile, they not only disempower the team, they also take away their responsibility for their own actions. The team may confirm and adopt the practices being imposed on them but they are less likely to engage and excel in them.” He also says: “…Forcing teams to adopt Agile may make it difficult or even impossible for the teams to accept responsibility for their own actions later. If your Agile Industrial Complex partner is suggesting you impose Agile, you should show them the door and find a new partner who’s goal is your success rather than an easy life.” (link)



On 12/02/16 Agile leader Mike Beedle, an Agile Manifesto original signatory, posted to Twitter:  “Daniel, I’m not sure I should be happy or sad about this – forcing people to do things, it’s NOT a good idea …ever. (link)



On 07/26/16, Agile leader Yuval Yeret presented his Agile2016 session, How to Make SAFe Really Safe Scaling Agile Using Pull/Invite Instead of Push/Mandate. This session clearly warned against the anti-Agile practice of imposing Agile practices on teams. (link)


On 10/02/14 Agile leader Yuval Yeret was interviewed on INFOQ and said: (link)

“..we push/shove agile practices/structures/roles down people’s throats. All with good intention but without a “fair process” and collaborative decision making regarding what do to and at which pace. This robs people of their autonomy and reduces the chance of healthy engagement in helping the change succeed.” (link)



On 02/10/14, Allen Holub wrote the article, “You Can’t Impose an Agile Process” in DR DOBBS JOURNAL. (link). He says in part:

“You can’t impose practices and expect any real success. Rather, you need to instill the principles, show people a bunch of existing practices that realize those principles, and then let the workers come up with a process that will work for them.

The core Agile principle at work is: individuals and interactions over processes and tools. The individuals need to develop their own processes and select their own tools to be effective.



On 10/02/06, Martin Fowler, an original Agile Manifesto signatory, publishes the groundbreaking essay, “The Agile Imposition” and states “imposing a process on a team is completely opposed to the principles of agile software and has been since its inception.” (link)


NOTE: If and when you can find more, send an email to dan {at} newtechusa {dot} {net} and I’ll post it here. Please: make sure the citation meets the criteria 100%. The Agile leader must issue a protective warning, or an outright protest, in the public square, regarding the deplorable and widespread tolerance of “imposed Agile.” Or, they must actively create the conditions where this can happen, as conference promoters, user group leaders, and so on.





The Twitter Conversation

You an explore Tweets on the issue starting from about December 08 2016 under the Twitter handle

As of about December 12, 2016, the hashtag #AIC42 (for “Agile Industrial Complex 42”) is being used to group Tweets that are related to the subject of the Agile Industrial Complex.

You are invited to use this hashtag when you reply or Tweet about the Agile Industrial Complex on Twitter.
Daniel Mezick