Wasting Time…Agile-ly

April 1, 2011

You have probably heard of Bruce Tuckman’s model describing the stages of group development – Form, Storm, Norm, and Perform.   Unfortunately many in the agile community seem to be stuck in the storm stage.  You see it in discussions that often center on positions such as: “You’re not really agile unless you are doing <insert favorite agile practice here>” or “<Insert practice being disparaged here> is not agile.  <Insert agile theory here> is agile.” or “<Insert agile solution being sold here> is the ‘right’ or ‘only’ way to do agile.” 

The latest skirmish line I have noticed is the Bottom Up vs. Top Down agile adoption arguments.  In general, the bottom up camp supports adoption starting at the team level, with adoption bubbling up, eschewing the heavy hand of corporate process improvement initiatives.  The top down camp posits that bottom up won’t produce sustainable change and that adoption must be driven from the organization level, pushing down.  (Hmmm. I wonder what Friedman and Keynes would think.) 

Why waste time entertaining such squabbles?  Stepping back to get a little perspective, clearly for any significant change to be successful you have to approach it from both the top and bottom.  The people must be educated and mentored on the new competencies.  The organization must create a structure and environment in which the people and the new changes can thrive. 

Both Dan Akerson and Matt Barcomb pragmatically discuss how to introduce agile from the bottom without ignoring the need to change the organization at the top. 

What successful approaches have you experienced (from top or bottom) that might help others improve their agility?


  1. Thanks for the mention, Bob! I hadn’t even realized there were folks arguing about the “proper” way to implement agile. Like you said, successful adoption requires both approaches. Imagine how long it would have taken the Transcontinental Railroad to be built if they had to decide which side to start on?!

    • You’re welcome Dan. Yes, indeed the posturing still continues. Jordan (comments below) may be right re: differentiation without (or with little) merit, in an attempt to sell.

      • With any new thing people will love it and people will hate it. You can say the haters are scared of change or think it’s just the next project thingy they’re not really interested in.

        There’s a great saying, that I forget the placing of, that says; I like what I know and I know what I like… in my best North West England accent.

        I feel that teams that get stuck in the storming phase seem to be made up of strong personalities or alpha types. They mean well and have good intensions; to do things right. That often being they way they do things or want things to be done.

        If the storming phase can’t be overcome then you’re just talking about something interesting that one day someone might made a decision on and could, maybe one day, then possibly happen. That sounds as airy-fairy as it’s going to get.

        The key is that decision and the key to that decision is getting someone that can make decisions to make one. In that, lays the issue with adopting anything.

        So bottom up will win and get better adoption if it includes someone empowered to make decisions.

        Otherwise, it’s just talking the talk…

  2. I agree with this whole heartedly.

    This is a topic I’ll be blogging about soon.

    In the meantime here are two postings that are closely aligned with the points you raise.



  3. Oops sorry… The above comment I had meant to paste into a different blog posting.

    I certainly agree that the “Big Bang” agile approach is not a good one, and it’s surprising they advocate that given they like to avoid “Big Bang” integration in other areas 🙂

    I think most of this is differentiation without merit or differntiation without distinction, mostly used to sell


    • That’s OK Jordan. The other two links are interesting in their own right. I particularly liked “Planning is not a four letter word.” and your statement on overscripting.

  4. Hey Bob, thanks for the link back 🙂 I agree (obviously) with your article. I’m also not very fond of “entertaining such squabbles” but I do think it is important to understand the characteristics of both and their limitations. I like that you bring up environmental creation. For anything to survive much less thrive its habitat must be balanced correctly for its existence. I mean, we would expect beautiful tropical fish to bread in a tank of ammonia!

  5. Absolutely. We are so mired in polemics we think there always has to be an either/or choice where one is wrong and one is right. Yet, we paradoxically insist on multi-tasking. What a waste of energy on both counts.

    Let’s reverse it, allow for the validity of pursuing multiple approaches simultaneously, but encourage the individuals involved to focus their personal efforts on one thing at a time. In other words, work as a team. Doesn’t this fit the old maxim, “We all hang together or we hang separately?”

  6. They don’t care about hanging together.

    From what I’ve seen on scrum.org, they claim the average CST makes $300k/year. $300k for teaching some lame methodology to sheep.

    That is why they fight tooth and nail over it…it’s all about money from what I can tell.

    Being reasoanble gets in the way of their revenue stream

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