Somewhere along the Agile transformation companies hit roadblocks, start cutting corners, and they start just going through the motions. What they end up with is a fake Agile approach. They say they are going Agile, but they are not.

“They are sort of like flamenco dancers who wear flamenco costumes and talk about flamenco but don’t know how to actually dance flamenco dancing. They don’t have the spirit or sense of what it is to be a flamenco dancer,” said Steve Denning, an Agile thought leader and author of the book The Age of Agile.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is uncovering the fakes with the release of its “Detecting Agile BS” guide. 

“Agile is a buzzword of software development, and so all DoD software development projects are, almost by default, now declared to be ‘agile.’ The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to DoD program executives and acquisition professionals on how to detect software projects that are really using agile development versus those that are simply waterfall or spiral development in agile clothing (‘agile-scrum-fall’),” the DoD wrote in the guide. 

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According to the DoD, a fake Agile project is one where:

  • No one is talking with or observing the software users
  • There is no continuous feedback loop between the users and the teams
  • There is a strong emphasis on requirements
  • Stakeholders are autonomous
  • End users are not present in any of the development
  • And manual processes are tolerated

If you are in fact practicing fake Agile, Denning said the first step is to take a deep breath and start to look for some genuine Agile within the organization. “You will find people who really understand what is going on and actually operating in this fashion, so find those teams that are genuinely on the right track. Find out what is getting in their way, what impediments they have, start removing those impediments, give encouragement to those teams, celebrate their successes, and encourage other parts of the organization to start embracing it,” he explained

If you are lower down in the company and at the team level, and don’t really have the power to do any of that, Denning also suggested persuading management of the benefits by getting a small team or group of teams that are doing it right to achieve some success. 

Other questions to ask your teams, according to the DoD, are:

  • Are they working to deliver working software to real users every iteration and gathering feedback?
  • Do all team members understand how they contribute to the overall mission and goals?
  • Is feedback gathered and turned into concrete work items?
  • Are teams empowered to change process or requirements based on feedback and continuous learning?

If the answer to those questions are no, than you have discovered fake Agile.