Agile Scam – Abusive Comments… What To Do?

This is “my” blog – I write most of the articles, and it is owned by the business in which I am a major partner.  I recently was reviewing comments in the moderation queue and came across this “gem”:

This man is a scammer, agile snake oil only 600, what a bargain. Filthy scamming piece of crap, he’s probably stupid enough to believe his own s**t too.

I’m assuming this person, who is anonymous, is upset either about something I said here on this blog, or possibly something that I (or one of my colleagues) did while we were working with one of our clients.

Several months ago, I was also made aware of a posting about Berteig Consulting (and myself) on Ripoff Report.  I’m not going to link to it, but I will quote it here:

Our company undergoes Agile transformation. Our management decided to hire Berteig Consulting

– a bunch of charlatans spending hours talking absolute nonsense.

They promise sky rocketing performance because they teach us to ( than follows a great number of words with no meaning). We must reflect in Buddish manner, talk to each other, discuss obstacles, be truthful, play stupid games,…. They charge company big money for waisting employees time for endless meetings and providing us with useless information.

Honestly, these sorts of comments make me a bit sad, a bit down.  But here’s what I think about them.

The Agile “Scam”

Let’s make sure we know what we are talking about.  Agile is defined in the the Agile Manifesto.  If you aren’t familiar with it, please take a look.  Basically, the purpose of Agile is to find better ways of building software that are based in practice.  In other words, by people actually building software, and sharing their knowledge, experience and the values and principles that helped them do what they did.

The thing about values and principles is that they are a bit like axioms in formal logic: you can’t prove them.  They are a starting point.  So, if you read the Agile Manifesto and you happen to think that

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how
to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts
its behavior accordingly.

is “Buddish” (whatever that is, presumably Buddhist), and that being “Buddish” is bad or useless, then that is certainly your right.  I can’t prove that this principle of the Agile Menifesto is “right” or “correct” or “always the best thing evar.”  But I like it.  I think it’s good.  I believe in it.  So I guess I am stupid enough to believe my own s**t.  Except that it’s not my own.  I didn’t write the Agile Manifesto.  But I do fully support it.  And, without exception, I think that if work environments tried to put in place the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto, the world would be a (slightly) better place.

So is it a scam?  Well, if it is, I’m being scammed too.  I work crazy long hours, and although I make a decent living, I’m certainly not getting rich off this Agile thing.  When I think of a scam, I think of “get rich quick” or “lose 20 pounds in 20 days” or those sorts of things that promise unbelievable results with little or no effort.

Unfortunately, Agile isn’t like that.  Here is how I think of three Agile methods:

  1. Scrum: incredible results at the cost of incredible pain.  This is kind of like I imagine detox.  An organization is near death and needs to be revived so extreme measures (Scrum) have to be taken.  Requires significant outside help.
  2. OpenAgile: good medium-term results that require significant investment.  This is kind of like making a conscious change from a poor diet with lots of junk food to a good diet: takes discipline, but do-able with good encouragement and support.
  3. Kanban: modest long-term results with relatively low effort.  This is like deciding to change only one thing about your health at a time even if you have lots of health problems.  Lots of small wins accumulate over time.  Doesn’t require much outside help.

Of course, my descriptions of these are _vast_ simplifications for the purposes of discussing the Agile “scam”.  Do professional sports teams or Olympic athletes need coaches?  Probably most people would agree they do need that outside help.  Is coaching sports teams or athletes a “scam”?  Nope.  Not all coaches are good, certainly, but coaching is an essential (sometimes difficult) investment to get to that level of high performance.

Bad Agile

Of course, not all Agile transformations or adoptions are good.  The Agile Manifesto is not easy for most people, teams or organizations to truly embrace.  One of the most common problems I see is that an organization believes that it can have distributed or remote team members and somehow have effective communication among those team members.  This is just one simple example that comes directly from the Agile Manifesto:

The most efficient and effective method of
conveying information to and within a development
team is face-to-face conversation.

I guess, technically, the Agile Manifesto doesn’t out-and-out say that a team must be co-located, but boy-oh-boy does it ever make a difference.

And yet, doing radical collocation is damn hard for most organizations.  So lots of organizations try to adopt Agile techniques without collocation.  And, mostly, their results suck.  Or they try to do collocation, but totally botch it.

Any given principle or value of the Agile Manifesto has its own challenges.  And so most Agile implementations are distant echoes of the incredible results that some rare organizations achieve when they really get Agile.

My Track Record

As a consultant, coach and trainer, I sometimes wish that I could say that I have never failed, that I have never given bad advice.  That’s because in complex human systems, it is very very very hard to sort out cause and effect relationships.  If one of my clients fails to have a dramatic transformation is it because:

  • I gave bad advice?
  • Someone at the client subverted the transformation effort?
  • An executive didn’t support it enough?
  • Market forces destabilized the transformation?
  • The organization’s culture treated Agile as an invasion and fought it off?
  • Agile just wasn’t “right” for the organization?
  • Agile wasn’t adopted soon enough?
  • etc….

On the other hand, I couldn’t very well be a coach, consultant or trainer if I didn’t have a clue.  My colleagues, Paul and Travis (who are named in the Ripoff Reports article), and others whom I have worked with (Nica, David, Mike, Deborah, Christian, another Mike, Allistair, Holleh, yet another Mike,a Michael, and another Michael (wow!), Garry, Jim, Mark, Mary, Sanjiv, yes even another Michael, Julien, Brenda, Derek…) are all smart, experienced, sincere, helpful people… who all know what it takes to produce good results.

The “Secret” Essence of Successful Agile

And, strangely, the essence of it is encapsulated in just a few basic basics:

Truthfulness (vs. hypocrisy, lies and deception)

Collaboration (vs. competition or individualism)

Service to Others (vs. greed and apathy)

and, ultimately, love between people.

So.  To those two people who felt they needed to spew out their hatred, their pain, or whatever it is that they are suffering from, I encourage you to contact me directly.  My email address and phone number are public.  I can’t promise to solve your problem, but I will give you love and whatever help I can extend.


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8 thoughts on “Agile Scam – Abusive Comments… What To Do?”

  1. I just want to say “taking the high road” is a lonely road, at least sometimes. Sometimes we are misunderstood, sometimes we are put down, sometimes we make mistakes and we doubt ourselves. However, it is because we are different, we make others uncomfortable, we have the potential and opportunity to bring the positive change to the world.

    Sadly, I see this person’s words are a reflection of what’s inside of him/her. It’s nothing to do with you, or Agile.

    Keep doing what you do, and only more. I am a believer that we have the POWER to act only from the good side of ourselves, and if we all are doing that collectively and consistently, the results will show, very quickly.

    1. Jeanna, I agree completely. That said, it is still worthwhile to try to reach out, understand others’ perspectives and see if we can learn something, even if the perspective is wholly negative. I certainly don’t dwell on the negative: if you look at all the posts here, they are broadly positive.

  2. Honestly, I’ve been writing software for over 30 years now and have seen methodologies come and go. Each round brings with it the collection of so-called experts and they often over-sell whatever it is they’re selling.

    I’ve worked at several companies. I was even a CEO of a software development firm for a decade. I personally have developed internal software development methodologies which I *didn’t* feel the need to publish for everyone else since I wanted my own company to make software better than others.

    I can appreciate those who father an idea, publish it to the world and then proselytize it and yet that doesn’t make it the best approach to making good software. The best approach can actually be a departure from the current “wisdom” of the day, something that’s developed and used only at your company and which is customized for your own particular needs. As a result of this I’m annoyed at wording within the Scrum Guide which suggests that it’s immutable. I would suggest that since it’s your company, adopt and adjust any existing methodology to suit you or scrap them all and create your own. But whatever you do, don’t just invite somebody into your shop and to allow them to advise you how you can fix your software development processes with the latest fad. Learn and then fix it yourself.

  3. I see. So “love between people” is the reason for my team’s new management-enforced daily sessions of justifying one’s continued existence on the payroll AKA stand-up. Makes sense. And “love between people” is the reason everyone on my distributed team is being told to sell their homes and move hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their friends and families to a hub office so that we can all sit under flickering flourescent lights in a grubby cubicle farm together. Right, got it.

    It doesn’t matter that my team has always been a high-performing one or how many successful projects we’ve completed. Apparently we’ve been Doing It Wrong all these years and just never knew it! Thank goodness we now have selfless saviors like you to save our poor heathen souls, right? Now we’ve got daily robotic readings of Jira boards and weekly interrogations about what process improvements we’ve come up with and bi-monthly “innovation” weeks during which everyone is commanded to be innovative, as if that’s something that can be turned on and off like a sink faucet. Oh well, I’m sure we’re just Doing It Wrong, despite the number of highly paid, certified Agile Black Belts or Rockstars or whatever we have running around and wreaking havok with empty buzzwords and promises that are music to upper management’s ears.

    Morale is at an all-time low, and everyone I’m close enough to to have a candid discussion with about such things is actively job hunting. These are smart, creative, hard-working people who are being driven away by the utterly arbitrary demands of a process that’s no more proven to be effective than Scientology or tarot card readings. Do you suppose they’d be willing to stay if I told them that the foundation of the Orwellian panopticon we now find ourselves in is “love between people?”

    At any rate, your words here have given me some valuable insight into the mindset of the sort of person who is only too happy to sell Scrum and notions like it from the back of a covered wagon emblazoned with “10x Productivity!!” and “Quality Built-In, Guaranteed!!” Well, I suppose now we can add “Love Between People, Whatever The Hell That’s Supposed To Mean In A Publicly-Traded Corporation That Solely Exists To Generate Profits For Shareholders!!” I mean sure, Scrum can’t work in an environment where individualism, deception, and greed exist, but if you’ve found a place devoid of all the above, then you’ve found a place populated by precisely zero human beings. Or a Communist utopia, I guess.

    1. Thanks for commenting. I’m sorry you’ve had such a bad experience with Scrum and Agile. Unfortunately your experience is quite common. But it is not the only type of experience out there. I hope approving this post gives you just a bit more Google goodness for your website.

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