The Agile story, at some levels is a rosy one. A Manifesto that stipulates a set of values, a collection of principles that underpins these values and teams of people of different skills working together in collaboration and harmony to deliver value in the most efficient and lean way.
Behind the scenes however, organizational politics, power games and internal manoeuvring have the motive and the opportunity to use some of these values and principles in a manner not intended for originally.
Take for example the following principle:
We welcome changing requirements, even late in the development. Agile processes harness change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
On the surface, and taking this statement at face value, this is a deceleration aimed at celebrating the flexibility and adaptability of agile teams to the ever-present changing requirements. Being able to change direction and support the business in a changing landscape is one of the areas where Agile and Lean provide better value for money. This, however, assumes that people are playing it fair and this, I suspect, is a big assumption to make. If there is anything we’ve learned from behavioural economics is the fact that what you see is not necessarily what you get. Put differently, people’s behaviour is seldom rational and even when it is, one person’s rationale will not be the same as the next person, even when they shout the same slogans.
The agile principle of adapting to changing requirements can therefore be used as a pretext for pretentious commitment to a certain scope with a hidden agenda to water down that scope citing ‘being agile’ (i.e. being adaptive to changing circumstances) as the reason for that subsequent (and pre-meditated) change. This is a level of gaming the system that is often hidden from the team members and is played by competing sponsors and stakeholders. Not wanting to be seen to be lacking in support to a certain idea they provide a lip service with no intention to seeing this going through to a completion.
So what does it really mean:
At the practical level it doesn’t mean much. Sponsors and stakeholders have always had the capacity to disturb (or enhance – depending on your view point) project direction. Agile, nevertheless, provide such behaviours with a ‘get out of jail’ card. It provides a level of legitimacy that now turns such attitude into a perceived win, a perceived ‘good behaviour’. Lack of commitment could be seen by the wider community as a sign of intense agility and adaptability – clearly not in the spirit of the agile intent.
Think about it!