The Anti Agile Manifesto

We have suffered through countless consultants and hours of meetings. Through this we discovered that Agile is simply the obfuscation of common sense – the bewitchment of the mind through language. We have learned that

epics are really just projects
stories are really just use cases
sprints are really just work
stand-ups are really just meetings
iterations are really just versions
backlogs are really just to do lists
backlog grooming is really just planning
burn-down charts are really just earned value charts
velocity is really just output
and that tasks, in fact, are really just tasks.

That is, while the concepts on the left are often presented as groundbreaking or unique, they are merely weakly defined versions of those on the right.

46 thoughts on “The Anti Agile Manifesto

  1. The point is not what you call it; it’s how much time you spend on “process” vs how much time you spend on “productivity”. The buzzwords leave me cold, and I totally agree that the fascination with using the “right words” and doing things the “right way” is the antithesis of common sense. But that’s the thing; they are also the antithesis of Agile. What you are railing against is not Agile. It’s Agile Consultants.

  2. The items on the left are a more general case of the items on the right. E.g. standups are a *type* of meeting. So is is a fire drill. But it has a different name because the format of the meeting is pretty specific. Exactly counter to your point that the things on the right are more strongly defined. They aren’t. A meeting is pretty weakly defined and can take many thousands of more strongly defined formats and still be a meeting. And if the things on the right of your list worked very well (they have a strong history of failure) then you wouldn’t find things like Agile coming along trying to fix them.
    More importantly, just because consultants are ripping you off doesn’t make a thing inherently bad. Cars aren’t worse than walking just because sleazy car salesmen exist.

  3. I’m sorry that this has happened. I promise you that it’s not what we intended. I’m guilty of some of this. I like to think that I do better now. Unfortunately, once “Agile” became fashionable, it became susceptible to the mangling you’ve highlighted here.

    Some of it has to do with companies who want to be seen doing agile, but don’t want to change the way they work. Some of it has to do with Scrum certification and the attendant cottage industry. Some of it has to do with training companies racing to the bottom to teach the least meaningful things that they could feasibly market and sell as “agile training”.

    I have to say: I really wish it were true that “burn-down charts are really just earned value charts”. I’ve seen them mostly as translucent lies about earned value.

    Blaming “Agile” for all this is lazy thinking of the same kind that created the problem in the first place, but I understand the frustration that lies behind it. I wish you’d had better experiences. Perhaps you will, in the future.

      • I remember sitting in a tiny workshop with Kent Beck, Francesco Cirillo and the late John Goodsen. I know it was ten years ago or so. Kent brought up the question of certification, proposing an accreditation model in its place. We debate it hotly. We couldn’t come to any conclusion except “this will probably not work”. We cited the typical reasons: too expensive to accredit someone, who will give the accreditations?, the accreditations will become their own currency, the accreditation process will open itself to competition and fracturing of the market… we agreed that we wished we could do it, but that we’d better not.

        There was a time that I wished *I’d* started certifying people, because it’s a nice pyramid scheme and I’d have some money. Now I’m glad that I didn’t, because I don’t think I would ever have felt good about having done it.

        As soon as there’s an X and there’s demand for people to do X, there will be X certification, and we can only hope that it doesn’t ruin the whole game. There will always be boutique Xers and enterprise Xers. I don’t think we can solve this problem other than by (1) everyone in the world becoming competent at X or by (2) discovering Y that makes X obsolete. I’m open to suggestions.

      • @jbrains: People love certifications in the industry where I work. But when a particular methodology gets popular enough that a certification industry rises around it, organizations try to adopt that methodology without bothering to understand it. It’s as if certification replaces the need for thinking or experimenting. It becomes a check in a box: “We’re certified, therefore we know what we’re doing and you should hire us.” The primary focus becomes figuring out what you need to go to get certified; figuring out ways to actually improve productivity becomes secondary. That’s the problem I have with certification – I’ve seen it happen multiple times (and even been involved in it), but it’s particularly ironic with Agile development.

        There’s a reason behind the demand for certification – it’s human nature to want a simple way of discriminating those who know what they’re doing from those who don’t (especially if you don’t either) – so I’m not sure there’s a good solution. In any case, I don’t have a problem with scrum training, just certification.

        Oh, and by the way, I also have to say that burn-down charts are not earned-value charts. The rest of the anti-manifesto might arguably have some truth to it, but not this one.

    • If agile produces bad experience it does mean it can solve it, it’s not perfect and doesn’t solve problems agile ideologist belive it will. Agile experiment is on track, and after years we finally figure out there are problems and choosing agile framework is somekind of religion. It’s realy close to religion and far from scientific research, engineering…

  4. That is what really happens when people adopt the buzzwords without adopting the mindset. This manifest is sadly funny and true for what many people practice as being agile.

  5. Great stuff,

    Brings to mind many discussions I’ve been having lately with Simon Bennett. Is a thing it’s original intent or is it existentially what it has become? I don’t think arguing the “That’s not how agile was intended!” point has much value. If a thing repeatedly manifests in similar ways then isn’t it reasonable to say the original intent having long ago been lost, becomes less relevant than the current state of the thing?

    Again really glad to see this coming into the dialog. :)

  6. Me being no good at Ballet is not a valid argument for Ballet being any the less of an art form. Neither is the argument that because very few people are good at Ballet that Ballet is ‘defective’ or somehow deficient as an art form, or not a form of art at all.
    The argument “if enough people say Break-dancing is Ballet, then it is Ballet” is plain ignorance, and arguing that the definition of a word is what most people think it is, is a nice knock-down argument for you.

  7. If you think Agile is defined by buzzwords, it is no wonder you can’t make it work.

    Agile is a mindset that leads to: making change management central to projects, cutting projects into manageable chunks, insisting on end user ownership, etc. What is your problem with any of those goals?

  8. epics are really just big dumps
    stories are really just what I tell my teammates in a meeting
    sprints are really just what I do when I have to pee
    stand-ups are really just for comics
    iterations are really just versions,,,,yes
    backlogs are really just to do lists…yes
    backlog grooming is really what should be done to your pet
    burn-down charts are really just trash
    velocity is really just how quickly you deliver to your customer
    and that tasks, in fact, are really just tasks.

    Seriously, how long have you folks been developing s/w, two months?

  9. Great post. The part “the bewitchment of the mind through language” is so true. We engage in word battles, when the only thing that matters is improving the way we work one day at a time. There is no time left to actually do stuff, if we focus all our energy on batteling one mind against the other, fighting over words and symbols. The challange is to actually find the balance between changing the way we collaborate (which requires the exchange of symbols) and actually experiencing what it means to create something – one line of code at a time.

  10. Hayim; Of course software quality is important, but in my experience, when projects fail, it is usually due to poor management. Even bad code is often attributable to poorly managed resources. If you are managing a software project, quality should be a major concern. That is why we have code reviews and layers of testing.

    • I agree, but the phenomenon I observed is that the developers themselves become obsessed with Project Management, constantly trying to improve their own Velocity and Burndown charts…

      • Yes, the misconception that velocity and burndown charts matter, while a predictable one given the system that presents them, is ubiquitous. Project management has nothing to do with either one. The framework that prescribes that framework is often trying to deliver on a promise of “hyper-productive teams” by applying pressure to the development team to deliver often and quickly when the delays and problems lie not with the engineering part but with the whole system. People care about doing good work and when we sell burndowns and velocity as definitions of “doing a good job” those good people will work very hard to make it happen.

        Burndowns and velocity rarely map to actual business or customer value so hopefully we can shift focus off of “doing agile” and onto customer & business outcome-driven continuous improvement. Focus on value & respect for people is a good start. :-)

  11. Hayim and Adam; You are describing bad project management. Of course people work toward the incentives that are offered. It is up to management to provide constructive incentives. You are describing management by someone who read a book and jumped on something that looked like it could shift the responsibility off to a technique, thus allowing the manager to avoid personal responsibility.

    Good projects are created by good people, including good managers. Everything else is secondary.

    • It’s the system, not the people. People respond logically to the system they are in. Usually what drives these people you describe as bad project managers who want a book or a technique to solve their problem is excessive organizational cost focus and capacity utilization. Fixing the system and focusing on the interdependencies and cultural assumptions therein is not about finding the “good people” instead of all the “bad people” statistically most people are average. But average people in a great system can do amazing things.

      Good blog post here: http://blog.newsystemsthinking.com/the-955-rule/

      • I am not calling anyone bad, merely not able to do their job well. By good, I mean people who are good at their job. Good managers need to be above average.

        I am sure a good manager can create a system and train average people to do a great job, but that is not easy, and the system that works well in one situation may fail in another, calling for courage and flexibility. That is why great managers are so scarce. Most people do not have those skills.

        There is another issue, though. If top management puts enough restrictions on the line managers, the line mangers may not be able to do a good job, no matter how talented and motivated they are.

      • Exactly, and placed in that situation they’re likely to start looking for tactical silver bullets to try and succeed despite their circumstances. I’m just saying that calling for courage, and “greatness” ignores the bigger picture system. Mainly I’m saying these things happen and blaming people for not being more awesome doesn’t seem very useful to me. Let’s understand the whole and optimize for value.

      • Adam; There is a story that in ancient India the world was pictured resting on the back of an elephant. When asked what the elephant stood on, the answer was “It’s elephants all the way down.”

        In the same vein, with managers, it’s managers all of the way up. If the system is not functional, the people in charge of the system are not doing a good job. Those people are managers. As for asking for courage and greatness, I don’t see the problem, especially for upper management. If they are not great, why are they getting the great big salaries?

      • “Average people in a great system can do amazing things. ” Its a big lie at lest in software development.

  12. While this post (and the domain) denotes there are broken things within how Agile has been delivered and made available to a lot of developers out there, it also shows up your lack of understanding about Agile manifesto and the values it stands for. I’d suggest to read it again, not just to tackle the way it was written but to really understand the words in it (http://www.agilemanifesto.org/).
    However, in your defense, the ones to blame here are those countless consultants who tried to teach you Scrum (which is what you are truly complaining about) and didn’t even explained the difference between values, methods and practices, and probably sold the idea that changing names to tasks was just enough to be agile. But hey, even if somebody else’s fault, you’re the one in charge of educating yourself before you start a campaign to truly stand against something and hope to be heard seriously.
    Just as Dave Thomas pointed out in its article (http://pragdave.me/blog/2014/03/04/time-to-kill-agile/) there are a lot of broken things around the way “agile mindset” is being delivered to developers and companies around the world, especially because they are not even delivering Agile Mindset!!! For a lot of people, it has become just another buzzword and a mean to create a new market of potion selling while taking companies money and not making any developer happy about it.
    This is why I would agree with a campaign against babblers calling themselves Agile (even if showing Agile certifications) and don’t really knowing or delivering true agile concepts (As an interesting fact, ihateagilebabblers.com domain is available). But standing against Agile Manifesto because you or your company got scammed by one or many of those babblers, sounds to me like standing against Human Rights because the ones apparently standing for those (who in this strange scenario actually get paid for talking about human rights) have no idea what they mean or even truly stand for them, as long as they get paid to talk about that.

  13. Just because you’ve flown on a plane doesn’t mean you can fly it. Same thing with an agile process, too many people use the buzz words and get the quickie certifications that the industry requires in order to get the job. They did the same thing to RUP, OOAD and OOAP when it came out; everyone was doing it, yet they really didn’t. I remember when you couldn’t get a Java Programmer job at big companies unless you were a Sun Certified Java Programmer … nothing has changed. If you’re going to say you are using an agile process then really learn it, really do it, and really be it or stop saying you are agile and find something else to blame piss poor requirements, design, and software on.

  14. I’ve always said that “Agile” or “agile” is just the Iterative/Spiral model with team collaboration (RUP/MSF lite) on steroids (shortened cycle times). Half the paper work and all the possibility of chaos. I know the original intent of Agile was to allow people to be adaptable to the situation and not be stuck in a rut by process dogma, but it has come back around to it. The best development projects, regardless of method/process, I’ve seen have been those that have taken a collaborative team approach where everyone starts at the same time and has common goals. They all work together and keep the final end goal in sight, they do risk assessment and management on an active basis, and are always asking the question “are we doing the right thing”. This is true for Waterfall, Iterative/Spiral and Agile.

    • Almost nobody likes this article, but a lot of people are missing the original intent of the Agile manifesto. The original manifesto was about focusing on people and embracing change. I’ve had a relatively successful career doing just that.

      “Agile” purists wouldn’t like my spending a large portion of my budget “up-front”, but I have never built an application that the client didn’t want. Knowing what you want to accomplish is not the same thing as embracing the waterfall.

  15. I will suggest you start by understanding that Agile is a normal reaction to the pendulum swinging too far in the years of RUP and teams spending an inordinate amount of time preparing to write code and creating unbelievable reams of documentation. If you would like to start understanding the underpinnings of Agile, I suggest you read Robert K Greenleaf “Servant Leadership” and that will give you the foundation to start uncovering Agility. Once you get your mind around the beliefs and principles that are part of Agile, then you should be able to better frame the manifesto.

    • “Reams of documentation” was created by people who thought lines of code was a reliable measure of programmer productivity. Sometimes documentation is useful, just as sometimes code is useful. It both cases it has to be fit to purpose, not just voluminous.

  16. thank you for calling crap on crap. the agile manifesto was a whiney juvenile temper tantrum. the “agilistas” I have met are closed minded, fascist, hierarchical tyrants. maybe there are other types, but I have yet to meet them. to blame the problems on agile to “unbaptized” folks masquerading as agilists is disingenuous in the extreme.

  17. i think it is about the incremental ROI than just comparing the terminology, the real business value is missed here.

  18. The interesting point to me is that this Anti Agile Manifesto speaks about practices and process. The Agile Manifesto speaks to values and principles. So this manifesto is not actually about the document it purports to oppose.

  19. The original people that put the Agile Manifesto together were trying to say what this is implying. We like this process because it comes naturally from common sense. It is everyone after that that screwed it all up. I like this lash back at the people that don’t get it.

  20. epics are really just projects – nope, groupings of user stories within a project…bad start

    stories are really just use cases – fair enough

    sprints are really just work – completely missed the point of iterations and value therein

    stand-ups are really just meetings – not at all, they are constrained info radiators to optimize peer review, almost the
    opposite of a meeting – you are actually discouraged from discussion, what kind of meeting is that?

    iterations are really just versions – nah, you might have multiple versions per sprint – they really aren’t necessarily related, but could be

    backlogs are really just to do lists – crappy backlogs are

    backlog grooming is really just planning – yep, and you have to keep doing it, Agile forces you to

    burn-down charts are really just earned value charts – wow, really? They don’t tell you the progress of the sprint or anything? Things stuck in queue? Has this person ever used a burndown?

    velocity is really just output – over a set unit of time, thus explaining one of the reasons we sprint

    This stuff isn’t really hard, and someone who is willing to register the domain antiagilemanifesto should be willing to actually read a book on the subject.

    Furthermore, I can think of a lot of valid criticisms of Agile that none of these seem to touch on – ie: it’s difficulty to sell to clients, the difficulty of using agile processes to meet waterfall objectives, difficulty in writing user stories and UAT, difficulty in getting devs to work together on a feature, etc.

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