Why Agile In The Enterprise Generally Doesn't Work

I just came across the Manifesto for Half-Arsed Agile Software Development thanks to the wonderful world of Twitter. I'm gonna shamefully copy the text of the manifesto from the original website:

We have heard about new ways of developing software by paying consultants and reading Gartner reports. Through this we have been told to value:

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools and we have mandatory processes and tools to control how those individuals (we prefer the term ‘resources’) interact

Working software over comprehensive documentation as long as that software is comprehensively documented

Customer collaboration over contract negotiation within the boundaries of strict contracts, of course, and subject to rigorous change control

Responding to change over following a plan provided a detailed plan is in place to respond to the change, and it is followed precisely

That is, while the items on the left sound nice in theory, we’re an enterprise company, and there’s no way we’re letting go of the items on the right.

As funny as this is, it's really quite sad as well. I don't think I'm going out on a limb here if I say that the large majority of us have seen and experienced this with a striking similarity. And I think I know why. I've only spent time in two 'enterprise' companies but from what I've heard from a variety of people, it's pretty much the same deal in most of them. Simply put: the typical enterprise culture leads to widespread incompetence, the majority of which is hidden from higher levels of management which eventually results in an environment where it is virtually impossible to work in an efficient manner. Whoa, I kinda dropped a bomb there didn't i? Allow me to explain why I believe the above statement to be true.

I believe the root cause of all of the typical problems in the enterprise world to be the Peter Principle. In the enterprise world, a large group of employees is typically interested in climbing the corporate ladder. Some of them will get promoted because they did a great job. If they do a great job in their new position, they might be promoted again. Eventually, most people will end up in positions at which they perform at a level that is no longer good enough to ever be promoted again. Quite (very?) frequently, those people produced more overall value for the company in their previous position than they do in their current position. Unfortunately, none of them (save the occasional exception) will ever go back to that previous position. As good as those people were in their previous positions, they are simply incompetent for the job they're currently doing.

Not only is it bad enough that you've got a lot of people who are too incompetent to do their job to a satisfactory level, you have to keep their superiors in mind as well. After all, they are the ones who promoted them. And they have superiors too. And you can safely assume that very few of them will be willing to own up their mistake in judgment to their superiors. That is, if they even realize that they made a mistake. Either way, either the incompetence is not noticed (which only points to more incompetence one level up) or it is actively hidden. Brushed under the carpet for nobody to notice. Obviously, that can't be good for the quality of the work that is supposed to be done at every level of the hierarchy below this one. Problems will show up in pretty much everything that gets done by the lower levels. Rules, policies and guidelines are put in place to combat these problems and to try to keep the situation under control.

This in turn leads to decreased motivation, which is especially deadly for those who do have the skills and talent to right a lot of wrongs. You're either losing time and efficiency because of people who no longer care, or because of people who simply can't do what they're supposed to do. Some will persevere, only to be promoted until they too are part of the problem. And the others will leave and prefer to work for smaller companies where everything seems to go "a lot smoother and easier".

With that in mind, go over the manifesto again and ask yourself the following question: how could it possibly work in such an environment?

Written by Davy Brion, published on 2010-08-29 10:39:02
Categories: opinions , workcareer

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