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It's after midnight and I'm resting after a long vacation day with the family.  What am I thinking about?  Scrum, naturally.

What I'm thinking about is this: Why don't Agile practices work on some teams?  Why do some teams pick up Agile and run with it, and others either fail to pick it up or actively fight against it?

It's taken me about two years to come up with the words to summarize my conclusion, which is stated in the introduction to many books on Agile and Scrum: Agile practices are what great teams do naturally.

"So, wait," you might think, "you're saying that if my team isn't Agile, or has struggled to adopt Scrum, then my team isn't great?"  As compassionately as I can say this, my honest answer is "Yes."  It's not that your team is bad - far from it.  It's that your team isn't great.  Because if your team, or my team, was great, we would have picked up Agile and run with it.  No matter what the marketing literature tells you, Agile practices do not make great teams.  It is merely a reflection of them.

Does that mean you shouldn't try?  Absolutely not.  I'll bet 80% of the teams who try Scrum and end up keeping "Scrum but..." get value simply out of the fact that they plan and track their work more frequently.  The problem is that I've been frustrated because Agile practices don't make mediocre teams great.  This may be the most obvious thing in the world, but mediocre teams don't want to be great.  They want to be mediocre, in other words, they want to work the way they always have.

So if you are a frustrated Agile evangelist you have my sympathy.  And here's my personal advice: Go find that great team.  Do everything you can to be a great individual.  Strengthen your engineering skills as much as you can.  Be precise and disciplined.  Earn the respect of your peers through flawless execution and excellent communication.  Because if you're taking the time to read this then I assume you want to be great.  And a great individual on a mediocre team still makes for a mediocre team.  Go help make some amazing thing.

Technorati tags: Agile Scrum
posted on Wednesday, December 28, 2011 12:36 AM

Feedback

# re: Why Agile Fails 12/28/2011 9:48 AM Rod Claar
Hi John,
I am amazed at how few "professional" developers have good engineering practices. TDD should be the standard. Would you know a Bridge Pattern if it was right in front of you in your requirements? Can Coupling be too loose? (trick question)

Rod Claar, CST

# re: Why Agile Fails 4/16/2012 1:23 PM Scott F
A great team is NOT one that picks up Agile and runs with it. It is a team that delivers high quality solutions. Full Stop.

More over, the differencd between teams is not (myhtical) Water Fall vs Agile. It is anarchic development vs controlled development

# re: Why Agile Fails 11/22/2012 10:10 PM Roe
Agile fails when developers are not well known to the Platform they are working with because it will take heck lot of time to resolve or to complete the task which is obviously creating piles of tasks in pending status.
what do you say?

# re: Why Agile Fails 4/2/2014 9:00 PM Plankton
Maybe another way of thinking about it is teams focusing on why they do what they do and what they need to get there are "greater" than those that focus on how they do what they do...

It seems we're greater when we do, anyway. We get caught up in policing "how" and we realize we're not doing anything.

Scrum, when we're doing it vs. renaming our poor habits, constantly reminds us to focus on why we're doing what we're doing and prioritizing based on who pays us to do it.

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