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If Agile is a Silver Bullet, We Are Hunting With Crossbows

The dictionary defines a “Silver Bullet” as a bullet made of silver, used in fiction as a supposedly magical method of killing werewolves. The modernized version describes it as a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem. Executives use “Silver Bullets” to protect themselves from downsizing, outsourcing, and early retirement.

Some people are plugging Agile as the present day Silver Bullet.

In response, I simply say – HALT!

Agile is an adjective and not a noun. Agile provides the ability to adapt quickly to a changing environment without material impact to time and the effort to the team. Agile is about applying common sense principles; reducing inefficiencies, increasing quality, and continuously looking for ways to improve throughput. Agile is a radical counter-cultural change in the process – a paradigm shift.

Pure agile contains all the above, but to determine if Agile is genuinely the magical solution to our complicated problems, we need to debunk a few common myths first.

Common Myths about Agile:

1.    Agile is a project management technique – false

2.    Agile is Scrum – false

3.    Agile is a one-size-fits-all solution – false

4.    Agile is going to solve all of our complicated problems – (sadly) false

1. Agile is not a project management technique

Agile is not a project management methodology as some may advocate. Project management methodologies or techniques drive a plan using repeatable disciplinary processes. Conversely, Agile is about interdisciplinary autonomous teams aligning to a corporation’s objectives and trying different approaches and outcomes to advance innovation. Agile is flexible and principle-based, rather than prescriptive.

2. Agile is not Scrum

Scrum is one of many methods of software development. Agile is much bigger than Scrum and not limited to software development only. Agile principles are scalable to most industries and functions, including operations, marketing, R&D, and Legal. Scum might be used to get Agile out of the gate, but it is not substitutable. It is saying C++ and coding are interchangeable.

3. Agile is not a one-fits-all solution

Organizations are all different and unique. Each company has their own unique culture, inadequacies, working styles, and preferences. Trying to create a one-fits-all “Agile” solution, is not necessarily wrong, but it takes away from the real essence of Agile. Agile is about reducing inefficiencies, increasing quality, and continually looking for ways to improve throughput. It is not about speeding up code delivery to the point where quality capitulates.

4. Agile is not going to solve all our complicated problems

Agile is not a magic formula that will fix all our complicated issues, it has, however, common sense principles that will fix some of our problems. You might be following all the Agile principles religiously, but it is one thing to want to do the right thing, it is altogether another thing to “actually” do it. There will always be procrastinators, office politics, and career aspirations that get in the way of pure agile. What makes agile transformation so tricky is that it goes against our natural behaviors - to control and limit change and uncertainty. At the end of the day, and to be truly successful, our way of thinking (our culture) needs to change before Agile fixes problems.

In summary

Agile is not a silver bullet!

Agile is about applying common sense principles; reducing inefficiencies, increasing quality, and continuously looking for ways to improve throughput. Start slowly, educate the organization, use Agile to go Agile, and most importantly - allow room for failure and constant refinement. Nevertheless, I hope you find your transition to Agile both stimulating and gratifying.

Written in collaboration between Jim Carlson and a Consultant Program Principle.