Project Management

Will the Real Agile Please Stand Up?

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Categories: Agile

By Christian Bisson 

It appears as if “agile has become the buzziest of buzzwords. But are organizations using it correctly? As I’ve evolved towards agility in the last several years, I’ve come across many job descriptions that claim and demand agility. Sadly, the term is often only used to lure people in. 

Today, the younger workforce expects agility in certain industries. But when the term is used as a buzzword rather than in its true meaning, that can lead to problems later on. 

So, how do you spot the difference between real agility and yet another buzzword? Here are a few things to look out for in organizations: 

Job Descriptions 

Analyzing job descriptions is one of the fastest ways to spot anti-agile patterns before you invest any time in interviews. These descriptions will often use words that actually go against what you would expect from an agile organization.  

For example, if you look at the scrum master’s job description, you may find traditional project manager responsibilities, such as: “create project plan,” “coordinate team,” or even “responsible for the product backlog.” 

For other rolessuch as a developer, you will see all the standard requirements about programming languages, architectural experience, etc.but the description will fail to mention anything about being on a multidisciplinary team, a self-organized team or anything you would expect from an agile team. 

Another description to watch out for is the typical “can work in a fast-paced environment” mandate, which is more often than not code for “lots of overtime” and goes against having a sustainable pace for teams. You may risk joining a chaotic work environment and delivering poor quality work because of all the demanding deadlines. 


Prioritizing work at an organizational level is key to being able to deliver value and avoid waste. And those priorities must be communicated to teams in a timely manner so they can plan their sprints properly.  

If this is not the case, you will notice that sprints are not respected and always change, the work delivered does not bring value to anyone, and the word “urgent” is repeated every single day. 

Some organizations struggle with this but are working toward getting better. Here are a few behaviors to look out for: 

  • Are teams listened to when they challenge priorities, or are they expected to just do what they are told? 

  • Are emergencies communicated in a concise manner to allow opportunities to react and pivot, or are they communicated at the last minute over and over again?  

  • What happens when the team cannot complete deliverables on time? Does everyone collaborate to reach a solutionor is the team left to their own devices to figure it out? 

Team Dynamic 

A well-powered team that is set up for success will deliver value. But if the team is expected to execute without any discussion with upper management, then you may be in a traditional management type of organization instead of an agile one. 

Pay attention to things like: 

  • Is the team able to make any kind of decisions other than simply how they code? 

  • If the team makes a mistake, what is the reaction? Is it a collaborative effort to improve or are actions taken to prevent the team from further being in control (such as adding a layer of micro-management)? 

  • Are there management roles within the team telling them what to do? 

  • Is how the team members complete their work dictated to them?  

To be fair, lots of organizations simply misunderstand agile and its related lexicon, and might not actually intend to lure anyone through outright manipulation. But there are many that doand those are the ones to look out for. Chances are, if they are being misleading in order to attract people to work for them, these organizations will act similarly to keep talent working for them—and not necessarily in the best of circumstances. 

How do you see agile being misused in organizations?  

Posted by Christian Bisson on: May 06, 2020 07:11 PM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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These are good questions to ask/think about. Many times orgs/teams/individuals think more along the lines of doing agile instead of being agile - really holding true to the practice and culture required for a high-performing agile organization.

The term "agile" is being used as a justification to fly by the seat of your pants and avoid work. If the real agile was understood then it would be understood that planning and accountability are every bit present as other methodologies.

Very good points. Thank you for the post.

Very good points. I prefer to promote the Agile mindset as the goal, but the tools of delivering organisational requirements can be anything appropriate within that mindset.

I think many at the executive level are actually wanting responsiveness, adaptiveness, efficiency and innovativion. To some degree they don't care how that happens. "Agile" (at the moment) seems to fit that bill. Unfortunately(?), for any successful endeavor there is still that level of rigor that is at odds with the "fly by the seat of your pants" approach the Joshua noted.

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