People, Then Practices

There is quite a stir these days about enterprise Agile frameworks. There’s a sudden rash of them with various names: Disciplined Agile Delivery, Scaled Agile Framework, and so on.

Any set of practices is fine, including those named above, assuming the people who actually do the work are choosing to use them, and they are not imposed.

So says Martin Fowler, in 2006, in the essay, “Agile Imposition” [2]:

“A team may choose a totally waterfall, un-agile process. In that case, clearly the process is no more agile than apples taste of strawberries. But agile methods aren’t the best for all situations, and personally 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, Agile Manifesto signatory. Written 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post

Question: Have we asked the folks who do the work what they actually think? No, we have not. Instead, we routinely accept the idea that issuing a mandate can work to motivate highly intelligent, creative, problem-solving knowledge workers.

Has this actually ever worked well?

The poor results of imposing a mandate are predictable. I’ve described this previously in the essay, Mandated Collaboration [1]. That essay is based on thinking that Martin Fowler explained in 2006 in his essay, “Agile Imposition”.

At the time, apparently no one was listening:

“Imposing an agile process from the outside strips the team of the self-determination which is at the heart of agile thinking.” -Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto signatory. Written 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post


We Are Done With Mandates

The era of mandating specific Agile practices is probably over.

The new wave is probably based on sociology and invitation, rather than methodologies and mandates.

SAFe, DaD, MOM, YourFramework, Scrum, FrameworkDuJour and Kanban (et al) are all perfectly OK, provided the people who do the work get a legitimate INVITATION to discuss with everyone else….

a) …what the business problems to solve actually are, and
b) …what Agile techniques and tools might actually help, and
c) …what experiments are next, to see what can actually work.

If the folks are invited into that wider conversation, and invited to help write the story about solutions, and invited to experiment, great. Otherwise, WE ARE ISSUING AN AUTHORITATIVE MANDATE which we know does not even remotely associate with anything good, or with anything even remotely Agile.

“… imposing agile methods introduces a conflict with the values and principles that underlie agile methods.” -Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto signatory. Written 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post


We need to be done with mandates. Can we stop right now, please?

Mandate-of-practices is the culprit here– not any one framework. Mandates reduce happiness by eliminating the freedom to choose. No one wants to play the “mandate-game”, precisely because it is not fun [4].

The mandate-of-Agile-practices wave, now over 10 years old, is probably peaking right now. This cresting of the wave may hard to see right now. That said, it is probably quite over. The results are in and they are not great.


The Next Big Wave

The next big wave is based in the sociology of INVITATION. The next wave puts people first, rather than practices.

“You know as well as I do that if the team really doesn’t want to use a methodology, IT WON’T WORK. (emphasis added.) Let them make their own assessment.” -POWER OF SCRUM book, page 31 (page 37 in earlier versions)


OpenSpace Agility

OpenSpace Agility [3] is a sociological technique that uses invitation instead of mandates to get a good and lasting Agile adoption. It focuses on people, THEN practices. It incorporates invitation, Open Space, game mechanics, storytelling and most importantly, a “rite of passage” structure to help actively manage the substantial fear and anxiety that comes with new ways of doing and being.

Any technique you want to use is OK, provided you show respect for the people who do the work. That usually starts with an invitation. If you issue mandates, you are asking for trouble.

If we mandate SAFe, you are asking for trouble.

If we mandate Kanban, you are asking for trouble.

If we mandate Scrum, you are asking for trouble.

“[A leader’s] responsibility is to make clear to the team that THEY should be in control of there own work processes, and show them how to do that.” -POWER OF SCRUM book, page 31 (page 37 in earlier versions)

You might be thinking I am off by a mile. If so, realize that these quotes are coming from Agile Manifesto signatories. Just saying !

The OpenSpace Agility technique [3] can be used at any time to improve your Agile adoption results. It can be used with any and all practices and practices frameworks. It’s based on the hypothesis that engagement & good results are correlated, and that ENGAGEMENT is the name of the name.

We can use it for free, get good results now, improve it, and make it better.

We can choose to avoid mandates, because they are in conflict with genuine Agile thinking.

“So I hope I’ve made clear that imposing agile methods is a very red flag. ”-Martin Fowler, Agile Manifesto signatory. Written 2006, the “Agile Imposition” blog post


Let’s focus on people, and then practices. Any set of practices are OK to try… unless we are mandating them.

Related Links:
[1] Mandated Collaboration

[2] Agile Imposition (Martin Fowler)

[3] OpenSpace Agility

[4] Gaming Happiness

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