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Anatomy of a Failed Agile Adoption


Agile Victory?

As time progressed, more and more developers heard through the grapevine about the greater levels of success following agile techniques. Unfortunately, so did some of the more political people within Gorwell's IT department—remember, people kept an eye on Winston because he was related to BB. In particular, the process engineering group took notice and decided to embrace this growing threat to their existence. One afternoon, they sent out a forced instant message to everyone in Gorwell's IT department that locked up everyone's machines until they read the announcement about the new version of their software process, called "Agile Victory." This occurred on the 198th day of Winston's stealth agile adoption effort; he remembers it well because it broke the fourth build of the day that was referred to as build 198.4.

A new group, called the "process police," had been created with the specific goal of ensuring that project teams followed the new Agile Victory process. Nonsolo development, such as pair programming and modeling with others, was declared to be a process crime because management felt that it was obvious that collaborative techniques such as this would reduce overall productivity. It was also a process crime to become a generalizing specialist because not only would it be difficult to retain anyone with marketable skillsets, thereby increasing the burden on the human resources (HR) team, it would also threaten the existing political empires currently based on specialized job functions. People who committed process crimes were fired on the spot and simply disappeared, and BB put a reward program in place so that you could even earn ++GOOD points by reporting process crimes.

Although this was a bit harsh (but how else could you possibly govern IT professionals), the process engineers did manage to improve things. After analyzing the values of the agile alliance, the process engineers determined that they were insufficient to meet Gorwell's needs and thereby introduced the Victory Doublethink slogans. The agile value of "working software over comprehensive documentation" was replaced with the simpler "Documentation is Software" slogan, an obvious fact that any bureaucrat can explain to you. Similarly, the slogan "Metadata is Quality" communicated the importance of Operation Blackhole and also made it obvious that regression testing and continuous integration were clearly a waste of time. The slogan "Plans are Progress" enabled project teams to report earned value when compared to the agile strategy of delivering high-quality working software on a regular basis—business stakeholders could trust the word of IT project managers and didn't need the concrete visibility provided by real agile teams.

The human resources department supported the Agile Victory process by establishing the "Victory Alliance," a group of trainers that ran what they called the Certified Victory Master (CVM) program. Anyone could become a CVM, regardless of experience or ability, simply by taking a two-day CVM training course. Granted, you couldn't become a certified master of anything, even something as simple as tying your own shoes let alone leading a software development project, by taking a two-day course. The Victory Alliance claimed that what they were really doing was certifying that you had taken the class, but this didn't stop anyone from claiming that they were Certified Victory Masters on their business cards and in their e-mail signatures. Of course it didn't help that the trainers provided the CVM logos to anyone who wanted a graphical instead of textual representation of their awesome certification accomplishment.

In the end, Winston's agile adoption effort was squashed. By putting an agile façade on top of traditional strategies, Gorwell managed to derail the productivity improvement potential of actual agile techniques. Inadequate training, mentoring, and coaching prevented staff experienced in traditional approaches to learn the techniques and nuances of agile development. In short, Gorwell's existing culture and bureaucracy had successfully repelled the agile onslaught.

Parting Thoughts

If you haven't figured it out by now, April Fools! Although some agile adoptions do, in fact, fail, this column is completely fictitious and is an homage to George Orwell's 1984. Although fiction, I suspect that many of the challenges that I described within Gorwell Financial Group will strike close to home for a lot of readers. It would be doubleplusgood if you were to consider many of the concepts promoted by the Victory process to be thoughtcrimes—oops, I mean process crimes.


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