This is part one of two parts. The second part will be along soon. This part is about individual responsibility. The second part will be about some things that “Agile” can do to help.
There are lots of reports of Scrum or “Agile” projects going wrong. You’ll find links to several articles I’ve written, under the success category here. Most of these reports refer to what I’ve started calling Oppressive Agile: an “Agile” or “Scrum” project that leaves the people on the team feeling degraded, dragged through the mud, unproductive, and unhappy. In the rest of this article I’m mostly going to say “Agile”. Assume “Scrum” if that’s the brand you’re familiar with.
These things should not happen. No one who wrote the Manifesto wanted those things to happen. No one who invented an “Agile” method wanted those things to happen. Honestly, no one wants those things, anywhere in my very large circle of people interested in “Agile”.
Oppressive Agile is bad.
A common response from people suffering from Oppressive Agile, and from those who try to help them, is to declare the death of “Agile”, or to call for it, on the off chance that it isn’t dead already. I get it. If this is “Agile”, I don’t like it either.
I happen to know a bit about what “Agile” is supposed to be, and in particular about what Scrum is supposed to be. It’s not supposed to be Oppressive. “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, remember? “Product Owner responsible for shipping best possible product by the deadline”, remember?
In almost every Should Die In A Fire situation, it’s easy to point to one or more specific bits of “Agile” advice that says, directly, “Don’t do that, do this instead”. It’s really difficult to find an example where a company did all the things we recommend and still left people suffering.
When we say point out that hey, you didn’t even have an empowered Product Owner, the victims of Oppressive Agile instantly come back with cries of “Hey, that’s No True Scotsman”. Well, no.
We’re saying “Your project didn’t even take our advice”. My doctor recommends diet and exercise. If I eat nothing but donuts and exercise by parking as close as I can to the donut store, I really can’t blame his advice for my poor condition. I wrote that baseball article years ago for this exact situation.
Then folks say we’re blaming the victim. No again. We’re saying that you’re not a victim unless you choose to be. We’re saying that a team has power, that a team has the ability to change their situation, and yes, we are quite frustrated and saddened when we see a team who didn’t use that power and ability. Sometimes we’re so frustrated that we want to scream, just like the poor Oppressed Devils (I’m using the word “Devils” here as short for “Developers”. I hope that’s obvious.)
In the end, people in an Oppressive Agile situation would be well off to look close to home for solutions. Calling for the death of “Agile”, or calling me an ________ for trying to help, even if I’m not very good at it, is not going to improve their situation. What’s going to improve their situation is the action that they take.
There are things they can do, inside Oppressive Agile, to make things better. One individual can do things. The team, acting in concert, can do things. Sometimes, all the things you try are not enough. That might be a good day to find another job. But always – always – people need to take responsibility for their own happiness. “Agile” is a set of ideas. Using those ideas effectively is up to the people using them.
It’s not about blame. It’s about responsibility.