Agile is NOT For You


Guest post from Daniel Gullo, Apple Brook Consulting

You are talking with two consultants about how to transform your organization into an Agile development company so that you can go faster and keep ahead of your competitors.

You explain to them that your stakeholders have a need to know what is going on and to that end, there are reports that need to be created. Furthermore, your product is governed by Sarbanes-Oxley controls, which absolutely MUST be followed. Funding for your projects is allocated two to three years in advance and is based on detailed estimates, which are in turn derived from the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the project. None of this can change.

You continue to explain that the teams are geographically distributed across four continents and 10 time zones and that restructuring the teams and bringing the teams together, even just for release planning is not possible. Your organization also has no budget to buy things like webcams, additional monitors, team rooms, or even open wall space.

The ScrumMaster in your organization will be “in charge” of 10 to 15 teams and may have other responsibilities as well. Also, the “Product Owner” is really in charge of an entire business unit and won’t be writing any User Stories, so the business analysts will need to be a “Product Owner Proxy” for each team.

After spending 20 minutes relating all of this (and more) to the consultants, including how none of this is negotiable, you ask, “So, what are your thoughts on the best way to implement Agile development here?”

There is silence.

After what seems like an eternity, one of the consultants clears his throat and says “Agile development is NOT for you.”

Did you really just hear that??? Doesn’t this guy get it? Is he really so independently wealthy that he is going to throw away the money that is on the table??

There’s a saying that goes: “If you didn’t get the joke, then the joke was not for you.”

If your company is not open to change or trying new things or running experiments in order to learn, then, Agile is NOT for you.

If your organization is not interested in having happy employees by focusing on people or they aren’t willing to make an investment in tools or to look at simple measurements of customer satisfaction such as the Happiness metric or Net Promoter Score, then, Agile is NOT for you.

If you are not willing to explore what “possible” really means and thus, have an open mind to doing the unconventional, then, Agile is NOT for you.

I’m sorry. I really am.

Agile is not magic. We can’t produce something from nothing or make other trade-offs go away. In order to get X, then you must do Y. You can’t expect to maintain the status quo AND improve. It’s simply not the “real world.”

Agile is all about embracing the uncertainty of change and learning how to use it to your advantage.

As a consultant, I often test the waters a bit when going through the discovery stage with a new client. I might say something that represents a “worst case” scenario to see if they are prepared to go there if it comes to that. I also ask a lot of questions around seeing how they think about people, constraints, etc.

My educational background was in Law. I am inclined to look at possibilities. I often find myself in a workshop or training session orating as if I were in court:

“In your expert opinion as a Senior Software Developer, is it POSSIBLE that you could build production-ready features, albeit very small slivers, that are capable of functioning from end to end by cutting through the entire architecture?”

“No. We can’t produce anything of value in less than six weeks.”

“So, it’s NOT POSSIBLE to release a single field on a webpage with a submit button that applies some business logic and then inserts a value into a table in a database that only includes that field? That’s absolutely NOT POSSIBLE??”

“Um, well, yes.”

“I rest my case, your honor.”

Becoming Agile means being open to possibilities and options.

In a sense, BEING Agile is like acknowledging and understanding what innovation truly means in the same sense that an artist understands what “creativity” means. Is someone who simply slaps paint on a canvas with no understanding of what they are doing considered an “artist?” Most of us would say that they are not.

Likewise, I can explain the agile values, principles, practices, and dynamics of agile culture to someone, but I can’t tell them how to be innovative. That’s something that has to come from within.

It’s uncomfortable, change.

And, through discomfort, we learn and grow.

If you are comfortable with how everything is going, then you aren’t learning.

If you aren’t comfortable with the prospect that Agile is going to make you uncomfortable, then sorry; Agile is NOT for you…

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23 Responses to Agile is NOT For You

  1. Jack says:

    Great Read!

  2. Bob says:

    Our Organization is currently struggling with how to utilize an Agile SCRUM Methodology in an environment running a packaged ERP (Oracle E-Bus), and what to apply it to (ie – support work, small enhancements, large projects, etc.). If anyone has experience with that, or could point me to some helpful information, it would be greatly appreciated!

  3. Tom Wardlow says:

    What a chuckle this gave me. I have preached, (seminary background), many of these same points, to many people who are eager to accomplish the agile silver bullet. I love agile. It is a developer’s dream come true. Hail the “Mythical Man Month”. One solid lead and several respectable programmers defining deliverables with full participation of owners/sponsors, marketing gurus, and anyone else empowered to stop or change form or function. For those of us in structured environments and stratified management, this is not for us.

  4. Anand says:

    I totally agree. Great Post!!

  5. Nicely said, I completely agree.

  6. I’ll add one more, a corollary: if you’re not in pain, change is not for you (and an agile transformation is a profound change). It’s a rare organization indeed that is truly willing to engage in creative destruction if the times are good. Call me when you’re preparing that investor call when you’ve got bad news, when you’ve got a reason to accept growing pains rather than the worse pain of failure. (And expect another disappointing quarter or three while you and your people figure out the new normal, your mileage will vary.)

  7. Rich Wheeler says:

    Compliance with regulatory and stakeholder (read: customer) requirements is not a matter of having an inflexible attitude. While extremes of corporate inflexibility exist, bad attitudes also exist at the loosey-goosey extremes of Agile. Rather than sarcastically setting up an inflexible straw man who is afraid of change, the author ought to suggest areas of the enterprise in which one can enact Agile practices without costing lives or ending up in jail.

  8. Great post Daniel!! You have just outlined more than a few companies. I hope some come to the realization that they should become a learning organization that gets a little uncomfortable from time to time.

  9. Manzur Quadir says:

    Rude awakening for many so called ‘Agile’ teams

  10. Will Lamb says:

    I think Agile is a wonderful tool for software developers, where I get frustrated is when companies drink the cool aid and try to force feed it into other areas of the organization where it doesn’t fit. When you need 20 weeks to build a tool in order to make your production parts the agility ends as you are now locked in.

  11. JaZahn says:

    This seems to fly in the face of the principles. Instead of telling people “nope, can’t be done”, why not guide inflexible institutions with ways they can be agile. You’re making “agile” sound inflexible, which is ridiculous.

    • Pete Tansey says:

      I would not normally respond to a simplistic article like this, but JaZahn has a good point here Daniel that I think you may have unfairly dismissed. Guiding rather than teaching is an effective option where a more flexible approach is required. I have a lot of agile coaching experience working with large traditional institutions in New Zealand that at first seem unlikely to be open to agile and the benefits it could bring. This is not spam, check me out on
      My approach is to spend time understanding the constraints of the people I am working with and then to gradually unpick the roadblocks that inhibit their thinking. This can be a slow process, often a case of 2 steps forward and one step backwards. It takes a lot of patience and discipline requiring an adaptive, flexible long term partnership approach. It is immensely satisfying seeing the people involved start to come together as a self organising team and really enjoy their work. It is not easy but it is achievable.

  12. Daniel Gullo says:


    I believe in approving all comments, unless they are flagrant spam or openly abusive. Your post is mildly insulting… Which is interesting, since you seem to have absolutely ZERO experience with the subject matter at hand in my post: Agile transformations and working with large corporations (outside of academia). This is based on:

    If you do happen to eventually walk in my shoes someday, you will come to the conclusion that there are simply some clients/organizations that aren’t worth working with at the risk and opportunity cost of helping those who truly want to be helped.

    Peace and blessings to you.

  13. David Morris says:

    What a beautifully crafted compellingly humorous inspiringly courageous story. We all need to be willing to say this to our customers (internal or external). I’m tired of water-scrum-fall, wagile, fragile, and tragile. If we can see someone is not willing to make the change, we do ourselves and them a favour by calling that out. If they really want what comes with adopting agile practices, they will come back with a improved appetite for change.

  14. Arun says:

    A great post. Organizations should not consider Agile as a fad or a fancy bandwagon to jump on to. It definitely needs an open to change attitude for organizations to successfully transform.

  15. It is an interesting way to say people wake up! because if not, probably your company will live some years and then will fall and all that you constructed will collapse.
    I think that a conversion to Agile is necessary for companies to transcend his creators and continue living and keeping in mind in all employees the mission, vision a values to keep the company together by each of its workers.
    The most important for the company is not the CEO, or any chief. The most important are all the employees that spend a long time a day working together with others and saying that the company is his second house.
    I am trying convert my company with Agile development but sometimes you have to overcome roadblocks. The important thing is that the company remains the working spirit of this methodology.

  16. Brian says:

    Great article.

    @Edward Horvath – Thanks for your comment. Being in an organization that is highly profitable yet has oodles of potential throughput going stale on the vine as a result of optimizing for resource efficiency instead of customer value is a very frustrating place to be.

  17. Doug Smith says:

    Bob raised a really interesting point in that if you are implementing off the shelf products (He mentions Oracle ERP) can you really call yourselves agile ? You really are not in control of what the product capabilities are.

  18. Rob Farris says:

    Nice post! Sadly this is more common than not. When clients become uncomfortable with “Agile” then change the conversation to value and empowering people. It is amazing what a little freedom, empowerment, and small wins can do to the attitude of a team or organization!

  19. Hariharaganesh says:

    Nice Article !
    Things get worse before it gets better when a new foreign element is added. We should be open for change and embrace it. If not then Agile is not for us

  20. Air says:

    Thanks for the wonderful post. I agree that Agile is all about managing the uncertainty of change and learning how to benefit it to your advantage. You also highlight a very important point that some developers may feel uncomfortable to adopt Agile. So they may not want to participate in the Scum meeting. Based on my experience, culture is one of the significant barriers to adopt Agile into the team. In my country, most companies barely spend anytime on employee skills and nothing on the difficult concept of what people need to do in order to self-manage into a high-performing team. Plus, people also seem to be too shy to explore their thoughts in the meeting.

  21. Agile helps to change the organizational culture from conventional way to agile management. And also makes clear about the roles and responsibilities to manage the project in agile way.

  22. Pingback: On The Inside: Is Agile The Right Approach To Take? – allthings

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