Don’t Get Worked Over by a Framework

scaffoldingAgile has been proven in larger organizations and the once-forbidden areas of regulated (e.g., medical, pharmaceutical) and heavily-controlled (e.g., defense) domains.  But there remains a vast population of risk-averse, often large, organizations in many different business domains, that are late-comers to the Agile world.  Many employ people with decades of tenure and manage scores or hundreds of interdependent applications, often having been hurriedly wired together as the result of multiple mergers and acquisitions.

This group seems to be the natural target of contemporary frameworks for scaling agile, promoted as being suited to such environments and adaptable to 1,000’s of people.  I’m a strong advocate of enterprise agility, but I don’t like some of what I’m seeing out there.  I see frameworks that claim to not be prescriptive turn right around and proceed to prescribe.  I see some companies that are eager to pay consultants for success rather than work for it themselves.  I see them throwing their money at frameworks that propose to solve their complexities by replacing them with another set of complexities.

First, I don’t fault such organizations.  It’s in their DNA to implement programs and processes in the face of problems, and to transfer both the obligation of performance and the risk of failure to consultants.  Generally speaking, I don’t blame the consultants either, because I don’t think that anyone sets out to be at the helm of a misguided Agile voyage.

But as appealing as it may be to those who don’t know any better, a “just add water” (and money) recipe for Agile success is simply an unattainable dream.  By allowing the impression that scaled Agile can be somehow plug-and-play, we unfairly hide the fact that it is hard, continuous work.  Well worth it, but work nonetheless.

Are frameworks useful tools?  In terms of providing a “scaffolding upon which to build”, yes, and we should not be reluctant to recommend and guide their use where they make sense.  But when we default to them for all of the answers, we deprive an organization of cultivating the ability to critically and transparently examine, and then incrementally resolve, its own impediments to success.  As Agile consultants, the development of these skills is still the most valuable thing we can exchange for our clients’ money.

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