Observations from Agile 2011 – Day 2

Agile 2011 in Salt Lake City celebrates the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Agile Manifesto.  Thus far the conference has been interesting but somewhat predictable. 

Here are some observations from my experiences during the first two days of Agile 2011:

It is shocking how few folks in leasdership positions seem to grasp the difference between strategy and tactics.  I think this may be a symptom of the incredibly short attention span most have business today… looking at the current quarters performance.  Chet Richards says it well in his book “Certain To Win”, “It is as if corporate leaders believe it is more important to install technology than to understand what to do with it.”

You see this with organizations that want to become Agile but they seem to have a hard time clearly expressing  why they would undertake the changes necessary to transform into an Agile organization.  This pattern I call the ‘Silver Bullet’ pattern.  Chamber the bullet, ready, fire, aim and if that doesn’t kill the current perceived beast, then buy the next one to see if it can  slay the beast, but in the mean time execute a series of reorgs to reboot the org all the while not learning much of anything…sound familar? 

I’ve been looking at the world from a holistic systems and interdisciplinary viewpoint for a while now and from such a perspective Agile software development has always been a complex adaptive system.  This view is generally shared by folks I know and authors I’ve read that also have a systems view of the world. 

What’s facinating is that each year folks just seem to recognize a few more of the dependencies that already exist in this system.  For instance scaling Agile is a significant topic in the market today and as the onion get’s peeled it is becoming more and more clear that the challenges of scaling Agile in organizations is not about process or techology or tools, it’s about the human component, the way our brain architecture  reacts to change which is why change management is needed in the first place.  

Denial of the fact that in complex adaptive systems things just aren’t very predictable can cause fear in many people.  This is the same denial that gave root to the bastardization of waterfall, the focus on following process, micro-management and the wonderously wasteful metrics that attempted to provide the illusion of project control and protection from projects that failed.

It will be interesting to have additional converations and attend other sessions to see how the lean thinking  (which is more systems thinking-oriented with it’s attention to the whole value flow) onion is being further integrated with Agile approaches.


About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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