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  • Writer's pictureBill Holmes

Are You Agile? Gosh, I hope not!

Funny meme about agile project management

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Albert Einstein

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Agile” is one of those terms in project management that will incite a passionate response from even the most grizzled and jaded project manager. In fact, some of the most vocal critics of Agile rise from time to time and utilize the Linked-In comment feature to strike down those who would speak well of Agile. I myself have written in the past about how Agile terms and concepts can be mixed with a traditional waterfall project to change scope outside of change control.

Who am I to comment on such a controversial topic? Well, I do have a PMI-ACP® behind my name, so I did at least pass a test once on the topic!

I thought it might be fun to spend a couple of weeks discussing both Agile and Waterfall project management models from slightly different perspectives.

Here we go!

Why do Waterfall project managers dislike Agile project management techniques so much? I think it starts with the Agile source documents and their implicit smugness and superiority. Why is Agile better? Let's count the ways!

They actually have a “manifesto”! Do you have one of those? Nope. Do you personally know anyone who has written a manifesto? I suspect not, and if you do you are both probably on a "watch list" somewhere! But let’s not stop there. The “Declaration of Interdependence” (get it, Interdependence) written in 2005 by the co-founders of the Agile Project Leadership Network named six precepts. They “increase return on investment”, “deliver reliable results”, “expect uncertainty”, "unleash creativity and innovation”, “boost performance” and “improve effectiveness and reliability”!

What are you Waterfall guys doing?? Clearly not any of that!

What else? Well, they think first, then they do. Then they get others to do! Do you think then do? Of course not! Waterfall project managers are so locked into their project baseline that they are focused on execution, not thinking! In fact, Agile makes the point that there is a difference between “being Agile” and “doing Agile”! Do you make that distinction? Are you “being Waterfall” or “doing Waterfall”?? Have you internalized the “Waterfall” mindset? Do you have a book describing such a thing? Nope!

Agile even has core values! Four of them as a matter of fact! They value people over processes. You Waterfall project managers may not even be aware you have people! Unless they mess something up, then you know. They also value working software over documentation. I know right now some of you are swooning at that one… They value the customer and want to collaborate with them. You just want to lock them into requirements and not let them get what they need! Finally, they respond to change over blindly (my add!) following a plan. They are so smart! What are you doing?

I looked in the PMBOK 6th Edition®. No values. Just some ethics, and those aren't even part of the PMBOK.

Even the type of work that Agile does is cooler than yours! They do “knowledge projects”. That’s right! They have evolved beyond the assembly lines of the industrial revolution and may one day evolve into beings of pure thought! They will achieve this heightened state of consciousness by knowledge sharing, working together collaboratively, leveraging social technology, brainstorming and playing collaboration games! What are you doing? Certainly not playing games! The Executive Steering Committee is next week and there is no time! I bet you are looking at pivot tables and worrying about critical path activities. Why not go build a Model T?

I don’t know why any of you still do Waterfall! Get with the times!

The Agile terms are much cooler. Here is a small sampling of things a Waterfall advocate will never be able to say: Scrum, ScrumMaster, Scrum of Scrums, Scrum of Scrum of Scrums, Extreme Programming, Kanban, Servant Leadership, Shu-Ha-Ri, Story Point, Fibonacci Sequence. Need I go on?

Finally, Agile leaders are leaders in the truest sense of the word. While you are holding people accountable for their Work Breakdown Structure tasks and continually comparing planned work to actual, they are leading!

And not just leading, leading from the heart. They are servant leaders who genuinely care for their people. They support empowered, self-organizing, self-directed teams. They create safe spaces where the teams are encouraged to experiment and engage with each other! Finally, they encourage others to assume a leadership role for the good of the customer, the organization and the country! Letting others lead is much better than doing it yourself, and the pay is the same!

What are you doing over there? Having another Work Breakdown Structure meeting?

Waterfaller's, time to evolve.

Next week, Waterfall’s turn!


When you lead with a Friedrich Nietzsche quote you better bring the heat! I find the German philosophers fascinating and a little bit scary. Hegel was a foundational philosopher, and many believe led directly to Nietzsche (nihilism) and Marx. Marx, now there was a guy who had an impact is still does today! Not all impact is good! We can’t forget Sigmund Freud and Kant either. My favorite source of quotes is Goethe, and I was recently able to get my picture taken in front of his statue! That was nice. There is a thread of darkness in all these philosophers, but their works are interesting to read.

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