Agile Simplicity – Return to Values; Unlock new Ways

Agile Simplicity – Return to Values; Unlock new Ways

2019, Jun 21    

The Agile Movement has come a long way over the last years. In the ever-growing complexity of “good” and “bad” Agile, I found a surprisingly simple coping mechanism: return to basic values. Thereby you don’t just reduce an overly complicated matter, you also unlock new ways of thinking!

When you were along the first waves of Agile, you certainly came a long way: It started off in the early 2000s as a manifesto with four values and twelve points, that was intended to guide software developers, managers and project leads. As the Manifesto already was the culmination for various preceding frameworks and ideas, it did not stop there. The next decade brought a myriad of new, ever growing approaches and methods. From SAFe, over Kanban (yes – it’s just another flavour of Agile) to emergent styles of leadership and organisational growths, “Agile” grew into more and more complexity.

The great thing about this complexity is, that it helped us to uncover ways of doing Agile in ever-larger organisations and flavours, the downside – at least for me – is, that the sheer plethora of concepts and contents is overwhelming. Especially for those who just recently joined the ride. Even worse, growing the existing concepts of scaling frameworks for Agile methods produces two pitfalls:

  1. It seems too easy to apply it. You know: Just introduce these meetings and build your teams that way – and your done. (Looking at you SAFe!)
  2. All ways to “scale doing Agile” focus on the tactical level, or the strategic level at best

Over the years I found that, if you want to “be Agile” instead of just “doing Agile”, there’s more to it than just copying the blueprint of a scaling framework. Every organisation that I worked with on the matter of adopting an Agile point of view tripped over the same thing: the required change of cultural behaviour.

Within the last year or so, I found that a specific school of thought emerged in the Agile Community. A way of approaching the topic from an angle of what I call Agile Simplicity. Instead of creating and maintaining the growing mass of scaling concepts, these people eliminate all the waste and unravel the basics anew. But this time, they see them through the lens of the experience gained over the last decades. Two of these philosophies came into public perception recently: Heart of Agile (HoA) by Alistair Cockburn and Modern Agile (MA) by Joshua Kerievsky.

At a quick glance, both of these approaches reduce the highly complex matter of Agility into a tetrad of values:

For the sake of this blog post, the exact values and differences don’t matter that much. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the educated reader to inspect for themselves. What is much more interesting is the effect that this simplification has.

When I first got seriously into these approaches I was baffled by their cleanliness. At first, I had a hard time to overcome my own cognitive dissonance to accept these simple views, as I was trained to scale by complicatedness. After I while I felt confident enough to put these values to a test in the real world. Together with my colleagues we built up an idea and strategy on how to refocus our clients back on four simple values, and then we ran some experiments. On the one hand we built up a training programme for non-IT personnel and on the other hand we started referring more to simple values within our daily business as Agile Coaches and consultants.

As I am reflecting now, the effect was quite immense. Regarding our clients and coachees you could very easily find, that they were able to grasp the ideas and principles of Agile much easier. Especially those, who did not have an IT or software development background. Instead of changing the way they do things they started to reflect on why they do the same things and what effect that had on their daily (business) life. And that again caused more substantial and lasting impact on the way things are done, because there is an understood reason behind it.

For us as coaches on the other hand, there was a well perceived impact as well. Instead of devising new ways of changing the actions of people, we were able to tap into cultural and behavioural change on a deeper level. Even more, a lot of discussion about what is “good” and what is “bad” Agile faded. We were more interested in why things were as they were and how that aligns with the principles, ideas and values of the Agile Movement as such. Not just with the tactics and structures. That also meant, that we are now more inclined to “let it slip”, when someone is using so-called non-agile practices, which caused some dismay with other Agilists we encountered 😊

Summed up, the interesting effect of Agile Simplicity is, that it causes you to refocus on the important parts. You are centred again on the why, instead of the how, things are done as well as the causes and effects. Better yet, you free your mind from a lot of things you already learned, and thus make way for new approaches and concepts, that you might have dismissed earlier, or never came up with in the first place.