Diagram of fake agile

Are you Agile?

I think that most companies that say they practice Agile are kidding themselves.

Does this sound familiar:

  • You’re spending ages figuring out how to document and refine your user stories
  • UX is wireframes upfront, maybe some user testing at the end
  • You have a backlog which is basically the to-do list
  • Your developers are working on multiple projects and issues in the same sprints
  • Meetings keep getting in the way of actual work
  • Slack is a stream of never ending random discussions

Pre-Agile experience

Let me tell you about a small team I used to work for. We didn’t do user stories, didn’t have Scrum ceremonies and we didn’t work in continuous cycles of learning and iteration.

What we did manage to do was to deliver great work, efficiently, with reasonable working hours. Our Technical Director found projects that were a good fit for us given the scope, budget and timescales. We shaped up the statement of work by having a quick meeting, and then he and the project manager sent in our response to the client.

Although we did most UX work upfront, we still assumed that we’d have to test, polish and tweak the product as we neared completion.

We used tools that we loved, sat together, and spent as little time in meetings as possible. We’d have show and tells with the client regularly, and would user test as often as possible.

Moving on

I felt bad after leaving that job, because during interviews people would say “Oh, sounds like you don’t work in an Agile way, you sound really Waterfall”. I’d struggle to counter argue because I didn’t know much about Agile methodology. I suddenly felt a bit “old school’.

Since those early days I’ve worked in a few agencies that use Scrum and Agile, and overall the experience has improved every time. But I can’t shake the feeling that the intent of the agile manifesto is not being realised by most companies.

Is it working for your team and resulting in great products?

Agile does not advocate specific methodologies, and it’s founded on the fundamentals of empirical process control: Transparency, Inspection and Adaptation. The idea is not to create new forms of documentation, endless meetings, or to overload your teams with insane workloads. It should be lean, light on documentation, and produce value as fast as possible.

I think many agencies today that claim to be agile are more over-worked than ‘waterfall’ agencies and waste an incredible amount of time on ceremonies and worrying about how to write user stories. They are actually making teams work longer hours and more intensely.

And this means that often UX budgets are slashed – if you’re lucky you can get in a workshop and some user testing at the start for a day or two, but then it’s left to the end to test.

Worse still, because few teams can push back against clients demands, many of them are actually practicing WAGILE and work in hellish tools like Jira to over document every single piece of work. It’s the worst of both worlds.

What we should be aiming for is to do great work, avoid time-wasting, get paid fairly for the effort, be respected by our clients, love them back, and make things that don’t drive people crazy.