No One Cares About Agile – Robert Merrill

When I first heard about Agile, I didn’t care.

That was over 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve told many people about Agile, and have been shocked to find out that they didn’t care either.

They didn’t care about how much better Agile was than Waterfall or some straw person of Project Management. They didn’t care about sprints or user stories or test automation or definition of done. I had come to care a lot about these things because I spent time with people who cared a lot about them. How could They possibly not care?

Last Spring, I was helping a project I knew was doomed—Doomed!—if they didn’t embrace Agile. I found myself talking to their senior finance person. It was hard for me, because their words contained what felt like threats. But I could also empathize. This was a strategic project, and they took their responsibility seriously, too.

For once, I listened until I couldn’t stand it, and even then I didn’t talk about Agile. The conversation went something like this.

“We have a history of not shipping on time, and we can’t afford that here.”

“I’m worried about the date, too. We don’t really know how long a lot of this will take, plus it keeps changing.”

“We’ve got to stabilize the scope.”

“I have a question for you. Where can we best tolerate not knowing, in the date or in the scope of what we ultimately deliver?”

“The date. We can negotiate everything else.”

“I agree. There’s no uncertainty about the date. It’s everything else. We can’t agree on scope. The technology is new, the team is new, and no one knows how long things will take. I wish we could just put all the uncertainty in the scope. That’s where it wants to be, anyway.”

“That won’t work. We can’t allow scope creep.”

“I agree. But what if we could accept that we don’t yet know what’s in scope and what’s out yet, and at the same time agree to one simple rule. If we’re not sure it will fit in the schedule, we don’t do it, period.”

There was a long pause.

“Think of it as guaranteed date, variable but managed scope. It’s actually a proven project management approach for work like this.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes, we can do that.”