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Debunking Agile

Keith Richards at the APM conference

Keith Richards at the APM conference

Agile is:

  • Change friendly
  • Iterative
  • Collaborative
  • Chunked delivery
  • Communications focused
  • Business focused
  • Scope tolerant
  • Quality focused (if you do it correctly!)

These were the themes that set the tone for Keith Richards’ presentation at the APM Conference in London last month.  “The basics of project management seem to have been thrown away with some Agile,” he said.  “Agile’s coming of age. Agile 2.0 is happening now.”  Richards presented some common misconceptions about Agile.

The 9 Myths of Agile

Scrum is an Agile project management approach.
Incorrect.  “It’s to do with solution delivery,” Richards said.

Agile is a method.
Incorrect.  “Agile is a philosophy,” he explained.

Agile is binary.
Incorrect.  It’s not a decision between Agile and Waterfall.  You can have degrees of agility.

Agile is a ‘family’ of agile methods.
Incorrect. There are only three methods: DSDM, Scrum and XP.

[Update 11/11/10: Keith pointed out to me that this only relates to outside the USA.]

Heavyweight approaches cannot be Agile.
Incorrect.  “You can use PRINCE2 in a very Agile way,” Richards said.

You start with a ‘backlog’.
Incorrect.  You have to create the backlog.  It’s required upfront work.

Agile is quicker/faster.

Incorrect.  It takes as long as it takes, but it does finish on time.

Agile is ‘emergent’.
Incorrect.  An architecture or design might emerge on a greenfield implementation, “but a lot of the time we’re not coming from a zero base,” Richards explained.

Agile scales naturally.
Incorrect.  It takes effort and thought to scale Agile.

Who’s going to admit to believing any of those myths?  Or do the Agile community members out there disagree with what Richards said?

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Brad says

    25 November, 2010 at 6:43 am

    “Agile is quicker/faster.
    Incorrect. It takes as long as it takes, but it does finish on time.”

    Ok, what does this one even mean? It takes as long as it takes, but it finishes on time. This statement from Mr. Richards makes it sound like it takes as long as it needs to take to get the job done, but it also finishes on time. How is that even possible? Or am I understanding this statement wrong?

    • Anonymous says

      25 November, 2010 at 10:36 pm

      Erm, Brad, I think what Keith means is that you timebox activities and make sure each timebox completes on time. In that way, it finished on time. As to it taking as long as it takes, you can have as many timeboxes as you want, maybe? The way he explained it made sense on the day – the overarching principle seemed to be that you descope projects to make sure the deadlines are hit. If the scope is essential, you can deliver another phase later to put that scope in, and that also finishes as per the deadline.

  2. Sam says

    11 November, 2010 at 4:48 am

    Nice post, However I am actually not very sure of Myth # 1. Scrum is not just to do with solution delivery. I feel to “think” it is just do with solution delivery is a common myth. If used correctly, it is more of a process and framework.
    I do agree both waterfall and Agile can be used alongside, in fact we have been doing that for a few years now.
    The rest of the 8 myths are perfect.

    • Elizabeth says

      11 November, 2010 at 6:28 pm

      Sam, I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Scrum to challenge Keith intelligently on what he meant by this point, but I’m prepared to take your word for it!

  3. Jason Potter says

    10 November, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Based on my experience with Scrum, these are all true. People want a quick fix solution and expect Scrum to be that… but it isn’t supposed to address everything. Personally, I love running Scrum efforts – but it really stretched the comfort level of many in management in our environment.

    My only thought is that it is quicker from a “time to first value” standpoint. In my experience, traditional waterfall will deliver all of the value at once, where Scrum allows for gradual build up – however the total value of the project is probably NOT delivered sooner. Probably more a matter of semantics, but I believe that is why most people feel that it delivers “faster”.

    • Elizabeth says

      10 November, 2010 at 10:26 pm

      In this economic condition, quick wins are important as they show that some value is being delivered early, which improves return on investment. And it also shows the direction that the ‘value’ is going in, and if it looks like it isn’t quite what you wanted, it gives you the opportunity to cancel or change the project early on, instead of waiting until the end. Although I don’t work in a strictly Agile environment we do understand the value of delivering packages of benefit, if only so that stakeholders see what we are doing as soon as possible!

  4. Michel Löhr says

    10 November, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I am not sure what point is to be made here?

    Agile is only a tool to be used by teams, just like traditional pm. The result is all dependent by the people using the tool. In my opinion the potential with agile is far better then traditional. But again it its all very depending on the people using the tool.


    • Elizabeth says

      10 November, 2010 at 10:27 pm

      Hi Michel. I think the point I was trying to get across by explaining what Keith said in his presentation was that deploying Agile in a way that makes sense is important for it to deliver any value. As you say, it’s just a way of doing things and if the people doing the things don’t understand or follow it, then it isn’t useful. Stakeholder engagement seems like one of the top priorities to me when moving to an Agile way of working.

      • Michel Löhr says

        11 November, 2010 at 7:28 am

        But despite the article, it doesn’t fit the title, it doesn’t debunke agile.

        Ofcourse it isn’t a silver bullet. It takes effort. And a lot of Scrum implementations fail (if you check it with the Nokia test for example). This only proves agile (or Scrum for that matter) is not an easy way.

        For that matter it is very disciplined, way more than a tradional way of working. IMHO that’s the point here replacing “debunke”.

        • Elizabeth says

          11 November, 2010 at 6:26 pm

          Michel, that misunderstanding may have come from the way I phrased the headline. The article is about debunking the myths and misconceptions surrounding Agile. I don’t think Keith, or anyone involved in Agile, would say that it is easy to do properly.

  5. LK Gahlot says

    10 November, 2010 at 7:14 am

    Thanks Elizabeth for sharing this excellent post. I was always wondering why Agile is made to look like completely replacing Waterfall? Agile should be able to co-exist with varying degree of Agility alongside Waterfall. This gives a learning path to many companies who think they may be considered laggards if they don’t shift to Agile immediately and completely.

    • Elizabeth says

      10 November, 2010 at 10:23 pm

      LK, I think you’ve made the point perfectly – there is a spectrum of Agility, and companies need to work out where they fit on it. And that place might change as they mature in their approach.


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