Although communism, due to historical reasons, has one, negative connotation in Poland, at the value level it is quite resonating. Wait, hear me out! It is based on equality, lack of oppression and exploitation. And it has started with an actual manifesto, just like agile.

Agile Manifesto also focuses on beautiful values – individuals and interactions over processes and tools, working software over comprehensive documentation, customer collaboration over contract negotiation, responding to change over following a plan. And yes, there is a disclaimer that both sides are important, but not equally. What are the weights of each side? And who should manage risks associated with those values on the left?

Conflict of values and diversity

How hard it is to unequivocally understand agile values can be shown by the number of frameworks, tools, and approaches that were created by signatories of the manifesto. DSDM, Scrum, Crystal, Extreme Programming, and more, all putting different weights on the values, all proposing different ways of working. It must have led to a conflict of values… And it did.

As you may know, there are two major Scrum certification bodies – and Scrum Alliance. The latter is older and was founded by both Ken Schwaber and Jeff Sutherland. However, with some disputes on the mission of the organization, Ken decided to go his own way and created Yes, The Scrum Guide is shared by, Scrum Alliance, and Scrum Inc., but can we assume that organizations, that have different values and different missions, teach the same Scrum? 

And when we have people prepared by different organizations in the workspace, will they be able to find a common ground? It is even more difficult than that – we have not only inequality of knowledge, different understanding of values, and different personal or team goals. We have a diversity of people with their personalities, experiences, and points of view. We have organizational structures that are better or worse in terms of their preparation for applying agile. We have different environments, products, and different customers. 

We have economical goals delivered by those who value power associated with their role more than they value agility. They use the power to deliver requested results at any cost. Yes, they have slightly higher attrition, but does it matter to the company? On the other hand, companies hire people believing in agility, having an agile mindset. Sooner than later interaction between those people will result in emerging conflict of interest. As we know thanks to Christopher Moore and Bernie Mayer and their work on conflict management, one of the most serious and difficult type of conflict to deal with has its roots in values. If we understand the same values differently, or we do not share values, the conflict is inevitable. 

The Scrum Master utopia

Scrum Master is described as a servant leader, a person who considers the needs of others first. And yes, there are people who can do that – highly sensitive people. It is however considered toxic by psychologists to always put others’ needs before your own. Golden rule of rescue is to protect the rescue team’s life first, and it’s golden for a reason. So, Scrum Master is already a rule of internal conflict, or highly toxic and dangerous for one doing it. It’s like being a leader of communist party, since everyone is equal, why would there be leaders?

Although it is a servant role by description, in fact it is a role of power. By The Scrum Guide, Scrum Master helps or supports, but in most organizations Scrum Master is accountable or responsible for team self-management and cross-functionality, creating high value increments in most efficient way, they enforce Scrum way of working, and finding techniques for effective product goal definition and product backlog management, and many more. They need to prove their ROI – Return of Investment, or in other words, they need to show that paying them a lot of money pays off to the company too.  

One could argue that a good Scrum Master knows tools and techniques that will make the change evolutionary, but what if there are people not believing in Scrum values? What if the evolution is not quick enough for the organization? What if there are key performance indicators that measure the work of Scrum Master? 

Another question one may have is how will Scrum Master behave if they will not work with complex problems, but rather only complicated? Based on Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework, we know that if something is merely complicated, the best approach is to use good practice, sense what’s the problem, analyze it and respond (usually in a clear domain). In other words, we need to understand it, decompose for analysis and planning and deliver by following the plan. Sounds like classical project management, or something that Scrum Master may not be familiar with. I would even argue that it’s something Scrum Master is afraid of – since in classical project management, or waterfall as one may narrow, there’s no such role as Scrum Master, so what will happen with his or her position? Therefore, Scrum Masters will be using only “agile” frameworks and tools. Again, one may argue that Scrum is not the only agile framework on the market. No, it is not, but it’s the most popular one, thanks to Scrum Masters, Agile Coaches and Consultants. 

Doomed to be replaced

Couple of decades ago, Lean Six Sigma was something every organization followed. Around 2010 General Electric said they will simplify Six Sigma, as the program itself was not sustainable. Providing small gains, requiring a lot of training for basically everybody in the company. Does it sound familiar? Jeff Immelt, the CEO of the GE at that time, said in 2016 that technology is far more important than Six Sigma.

How does agile go along with its promises? To paraphrase Jeff Sutherland, does it deliver twice as much in half the time?

There is a tool called Gartner Hype Cycle that provides graphical interpretation of development of technology through five phases: technology trigger, peak of inflated expectations, trough of disillusionment, slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivity. Where is agile on that curve? Based on my experience, conversations during events and self-observations of the market, I think that after all those years from creating Agile Manifesto in 2001, the agile way of working is peaking down from inflated expectations to the trough of disillusionment. Just like communism did as a government style. Will agile survive, will it be a niche management approach, or will it evolve? Only time will tell. However, hearing consultants saying that agile transformation is an endless journey, hearing how many project-based agile transformations failed in big organizations, or seeing what organizations call as agile… all that is not giving me high hopes. Worth to mention, on Gartner Hype Cycle for Innovation Management Technologies, both Design Thinking and Lean Startup are in the trough of disillusionment phase.

What next?

Will agile disappear completely? I do not believe so. Agile introduces a lot of valid practices and tools, and in some form, it will survive. As perestroika ended, ideas like diversity and equality are still vivid in our society, agile also has a big influence on the current business environment. Nonetheless, I’m sure that at one point a manager will ask how much an organization needs to pay for agile endless transformation, and what are the benefits. If the profit and loss balance sheet will not add up, maybe agile, like Six Sigma in GE, will be “simplified”. Or maybe it is already? 

I do not know what the next hype in the product and project management would be. Maybe it will be big data management, or maybe AI supported project management, or GOVNO framework. Whatever will it be, make sure you don’t blindly follow the hype and check applicability. As I say in my project management trainings – project management is easy, you just need to Plan-Do-Check-Act at the right moments. 

Let me end with one of my favorite proverbs:

“If you only know hammer (and sickle), all the challenges on your way may look like a nail (or grain)”.