'Ceremonies' and 'Rituals' Won't Make You Agile

Gil Broza is on a mission to make software development more effective, humane and responsible. He helps people pick up where Scrum left off, especially on the technical, human and thinking sides of agile. His new book "The Agile Mind-Set" helps practitioners go beyond process and adopt a true agile approach to work. He is also the author of "The Human Side of Agile", the definitive practical book on leading agile teams to greatness; host of the popular virtual trainings Individuals and Interactions and Packing List for Your Agile Journey; and co-leader (with Johanna Rothman) of the annual Influential Agile Leader event. Any given day, you can find him coaching, consulting, training, speaking, facilitating and writing. Get Gil's popular 20-session mini-program, Something Happened on the Way to Agile, free at OnTheWayToAgile.com.

Imagine you’ve joined a new company and your new team is using agile. The manager meets you and during the introductory conversation says, “Mondays, we have the planning ceremony at 10 a.m. The other main ceremonies are on Friday afternoons...”

Rewind to where the person said “ceremony.” Did you feel excited? Curious? Nervous? Unenthusiastic?

Words have connotations. For many people, the generic word for these team interactions—“meetings”—carries connotations that are negative. In my experience, using the word “ceremony” (and its close cousin, “ritual”) is worse: It is a signal that your agile implementation is not going to be great. Here is why.

Words communicate hidden assumptions
What people refer to as “ceremonies” and “rituals” are the scrum meetings: the daily standup and the sprint planning, review and retrospective. I hear these words everywhere (searching online for “agile ceremonies” yields 400,000 hits).

Many people who have soured on poorly run “meetings” have opted to use “ceremonies,” because they seem to convey regularity, a set agenda, a strict time-box and clear outcomes. That might be true, but I think they convey additional, subtle assumptions.

Here are some of the assumptions I’ll make—…

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I have made good judgements in the past. I have made good judgements in the future.

- Dan Quayle



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