Is "agile" for everyone?

May 24, 2022
If we don't help enterprises adapt, will anyone?

On the most recent episode of the No Nonsense Agile Podcast hosts Murray Robinson and Shane Gibson interviewed Michael Küsters about SAFe, the Scaled Agile Framework, which is gaining in popularity especially among large enterprises.

If you work in an organization that uses SAFe, or are considering adopting SAFe, the podcast is definitely worth a listen. But today I want to pull out just one quote, from the very end of the episode, where Michael says (starting around the 54 minute mark):

Should we leave the field of Agile consulting in enterprises completely to the people who are really only in it for the money, and who are not interested in helping, only in dumping a process and taking the big paycheck? I am opposed to this idea, and I fully agree with Shane where you said that the values of organizations looking for SAFe are not aligned with agile values, and that is why change is hard. But if we are not there to kick them off on this journey, nobody may. And if I might be one of the few people who say that I understand the difficulty and the challenges and the pain of working with inconsistent values to move toward a new set of values, then I am willing to go this journey.

I must give kudos to Michael for his willingness to fight this hard fight. I’ve worked in a few large enterprises, and affecting change in these places is like trying to steer a ship. It takes a lot of work, and visible results are often delayed by months or years.

However, I disagree with Michael. Of course, that’s not to say he’s wrong. I disagree on a matter primarily of preference. In particular, his assertion that “If we are not there … nobody may.” So what? Not to be flippant, but what do we owe to inflexible corporations in this regard? Why must agile coaches, or indeed anyone, take it upon themselves to educate these behemoths?

Wouldn’t our time, as coaches, trainers, teachers, and advocates be much better spent helping companies who want this help?

Of course, there is no “right answer” to this conundrum. And the world is a better place because of a diversity of opinions. I, for one, am glad that Michael has a calling to this field, solving problems that would drive me crazy, because it helps advance the cause of better software development everywhere.

But on the other hand, I prefer to focus my attention at the other end of the spectrum, (perhaps solving problems that would drive Michael crazy). I like to work with small companies who are hungry for a new approach, who don’t need convincing, who aren’t attracted to heavy frameworks, and who don’t need subversive tactics to adopt better practices.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
— Matthew 10:14 (NIV)

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