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When Agile means chaos

When organizations and leaders hide inefficiency behind a software practice.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say that in a project, I would be rich by now… well, perhaps not rich but I would have a little extra money in my pocket, that’s for sure.

So many times I’ve heard Agile used as an excuse for lack of goals and thoughtless scope change but, can we effectively attribute to Agile methodologies to be the source of all of our stress?

While being established as the primary methodology for delivering software across the world, organizations (or leaders) have also established this word as an excuse for being unable to lead efficiently, changing scope overnight or making rushed decisions to speed up delivery, while not evaluating consequences or impact in the product, the users or the teams.

We know it, in the world we live today we need to ship and we need to ship fast but, long from hoping for a waterfall project, constant changes without solid business foundation make teams stress and delay even more the deliverable.

While the Agile manifesto defines:

“Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan”

to me, the last phrase seems the most important: following a plan. No plan means chaos, chaos means stress, stress… leads to more chaos.

Let’s be clear about this: while Agile manifesto speaks of change over having a plan, most methodologies do have basis on planning activities. If we take SCRUM for example, all its ceremonies revolve around a plan, the sprint plan, so not following a plan is never really an option.

As developers and managers we need to be as flexible as possible, but this needs to follow a purpose. Being able to adapt to changing plans is good, adapting to things constantly changing seems more like juggling to me, not developing software or creating high performing teams. You wouldn’t ask an architect who has made the foundation for a two floor home to reuse what he has and suddenly build a ten story building… right?

So what can we do with ourselves or our teams when things constantly change, seemingly without change or purpose?

Can we have structure, yet be flexible?

Trying to organize a team in the middle of disorder might seem daunting at first, and even create some tensions to begin with, but I have found in my experience to be not only achievable but also a way to spread the disease of organization across teams.

Without being rigid you can set a firewall for your team or yourself, setting clear goals and avoiding the environment clutter from the daily tasks. Set clear goals and expectations. When requirements or objectives are not clear try to frame them in something more concrete. Develop the habit of understanding the need and even making your leaders to explain them to you (and in the process understand it themselves).

Once you have achieved certain rhythm around yourself things will start falling into place. Make of your time and your team’s your own sandbox and experiment. In time you’ll be able to distinguish between noise and the real work.

So how about you? Have you lived in chaos? What does Agile mean to you and your company?

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