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Agile: Too Good to be True?


As a purveyor of the dark arts we call Agile, I come across many instances where non-agilists scoff albeit at the notion that such a method could help provide. Let’s look at some of the claims:

  • Better Business / IT Alignment

  • Higher Quality Products

  • Better Products to Market Sooner

  • Get the Real Things that Customers Want

Such claims I am told are preposterous. Even among those that have been embodying agile principles sometimes have their doubts when they hear a claim about how good they should be having things because they are not seeing it. Most of this reticent behavior and naysaying hoopla comes as a result of not sticking to the core of what Agile is intended to accomplish.

At its roots, Agile is not a process but a way of thinking and interacting. Let’s look at the Manifesto real quick and extract out why it is that people don’t get what they want out of their Agile practices.

  • Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

  • Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

  • Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

  • Responding to Change over Following a Plan

There is a common theme that everything starts with here and it is something I stress in every class I teach and every discussion I have with someone trying to be more agile. It’s the people and the interactions you have with them. For all the good that can be had with the JIRA’s, Rally’s, VersionOne’s and Trello’s of the world, they are merely tools that help with whatever process you want to follow. The tools don’t fix the problem of interactions that are not happening within your organization. So, if you are looking for a lick ‘em stick ‘em approach, tools get you to some sense of uniformity. But, even dysfunction where uniformly done can seem comforting for a period of time. You have to get to the roots here. The people are the center of everything that goes on with Agile.


If we focus on the interactions within the confines of our organization, keep in mind that we are potentially limiting ourselves to the first two successes that are talked about, namely, Better Business / IT Alignment sand Higher Quality Products. However, to get even further benefit we cannot limit the extent to which those interactions occur with individuals that are potentially using our products and solutions. Countless times in my career I can remember the first time I have observed software developers getting in front of their users to see what they are trying to accomplish with a product. It becomes eye opening. The comments of “I didn’t know that’s what they were trying to do”, “If I would’ve known they needed that” and other similar sentiments are expressed over and over again. The further we get the actual work being done from the real users, the more we abstract that feedback cycle that helps interactions be much more beneficial for users and profitable for our companies.

While we can dive into the nuances of all the aspects of the Agile Manifesto, unless we master the first aspect of it we will struggle royally in trying to get further benefit for out organizations. When you are seeing promises that seem lofty and almost too good to be true. It could be with a quote for work, a promise of delivery, a statement of benefits to be achieved when following a prescribed plan, don’t just push it off as too good to be true. Truth and good can be found in so many different areas that is brushed aside without proper consideration. If you want to know whether something works or not, whether something will accomplish its prescribed benefit, sample it, find ways to use the principles and practices or whatever is being recommended. If you are not seeing improvement within 1 to 2 cycles, reevaluate and determine what is not working and make those changes. Openly talk about the options and brainstorm solutions with the people and let them act of the most pressing need. Only then can you debunk the myths from the truth and find the things that truly will benefit you as an individual, your clients and your company as a whole.

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