Agile is not a substitution for vision

Posted on May 18, 2015.

empty throne


In his blog post from 2011, Mike Cottmeyer, an agile consultant and coach, listed off the 13 most common reasons his clients began their agile transformation. The list contains reasons like, “faster time to market”, “early ROI” and “risk reduction and predictability.” My sense is that this spectrum of drivers falls along a timeline that reflects agile’s increasing rate of adoption over the past 15 years. Speculating further (me, not Mike), I would guess that items like “culture”, “morale” and “feedback from real customers” are near the beginning of that timeline with “faster time to market” being the overwhelming driver today. One thing missing from Mike’s list is “to find our strategic vision.”

Poor implementation of Agile along with Lean Startup in the enterprise has led to a rising chorus of critiques lately that these methods are being used as crutches for organizations that lack a strong strategic vision. The critique continued that these processes serve as a substitution for a clear vision using experimentation, iteration and continuous learning to “feel their way through the dark” to a solution (and de facto vision) that works well enough.

It’s worth pointing out the flaws in this argument. 

Mike’s list is over four years old now, but the number one item on there still holds true. Agile, as it’s being implemented today by most companies, is an attempt to make software delivery more efficient and predictable. This may not have been its original intent but that is the primary driver for its adoption in my experience. Lean is a manufacturing philosophy focused on reducing waste through continuous improvement and optimization of flow. Lean Startup is a methodology designed to help organizations learn which solutions stand the greatest chance for success. None of these methods explicitly tells an organization WHAT they should work on at the strategic level. 

Strong opinions about market opportunities and ways to capitalize on them are core to the success of any business. Your corporate leaders are abdicating their responsibilities if they’re iterating their way to corporate vision. This is not the fault of a specific methodology or process. It’s just bad leadership.


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