A few days ago I had an interesting discussion with my wife which made me think about processes and culture again. To understand my reasoning one has to know that my wife is a classic business person. She has several business degrees and is a consultant working as project and process manager focusing on process optimisation and automation for several large clients. Within this area most people in her role will likely interact with IT departments and inevitably get into contact with some agile development process. As agile processes and principles are somehow disconnected from what most business students and professionals learn regarding project management, my wife got serious about the topic and took part in an agile training. Our discussion started after this training. Within this blog post I want to share my two takeaways regarding agile culture I gained from this discussion.
Agile != Scrum
As mentioned above, my wife went to a training in order to understand agile principles and how they can help to deliver the right product in time. Of course the training was not primarily focused on agile culture, the agile manifesto and its accompanying twelve principles (yes, there are twelve principles most people forget about…). Trainings which actually explain what agile culture is, disconnected from any concrete manifestation within a development process, are quite rare. Therefore, she attended a Scrum training of which agile culture and principles only were a small part. The primary focus was to explain how agile is implemented within the boundaries of Scrum.
In my opinion this is one of the biggest flaws in today’s agile community and it became clearer to me when I talked to my wife about this topic. I met many people which use agile and Scrum as synonyms. As result most people see Scrum as only way to be agile and focus on this concrete agile process manifestation.
Often this results in situations where implementing the process correctly and following its definition stands above everything else. I actually was part of a meeting in which a certified Scrum Master supported his argumentation by holding a Scrum book in his hand and telling everyone that “this is how the process is defined and we have to follow it in order to be agile!”. I tried to explain to him my view that his approach did not correlate with the first agile manifesto statement “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, but this was not something he wanted to talk about.
My point here is that people tend to forget agile culture and its principles completely. Teaching these aspects is often only a small part of agile trainings which mostly focus on concrete process implementations. During our discussion my wife had a few questions which she understood after I explained a few aspects of agile culture to her. I can not emphasise it enough, agile is not equal to Scrum and it would be much more effective and successful if agile culture would be taught properly and lived within organisations.
Agile Culture Supports any Process
Another point I found astonishing was that my wife primarily saw the values within the cultural aspects of Scrum and agile in general. Her critique regarding the training was that it was primarily focused on how to run the process and not much on how people work together, how culture has to change and which benefits one achieves by doing so. In her opinion these were the core aspect of the approach and could be applied to classic project management and product development as well.
In general this correlates to my views. As mentioned above people tend to completely focus on implementing a process and getting fast results. Quite often the goals set can not be reached as the cultural change is ignored. But in the end this is what really matters and helps in any work environment. Today we are talking much about agile software development, agile processes and agile leadership but most of the time agile culture and the amount of time as well as resources it takes to foster such a culture are completely ignored. Currently I see the same development in areas such as Microservices and DevOps. Most people just see and talk about technical aspects. Although these are very important and interesting, they primarily support a cultural change. This cultural change should be core of all programs and agendas. If one leaves them aside it only results in another hollow process or toolchains which development was driven entirely out of technical curiosity.
When you kept with me up to this point I want you to have two takeaways from this post. Firstly, keep in mind that agile is not equal Scrum. Scrum is a process implementing agile principles. It is a great process if an agile culture was developed and it can definitely help to increase development speed and product quality. It will most likely fail if you forget about agile culture and raise the process above everything else. Secondly, agile culture can help everywhere people work together. It can be applied in project management, leadership and most other disciplines. However, you have to understand what agile means first and be aware that it will take time and a great effort in order to develop an agile culture.