Embrace failure of Agile

Agile teaches us to embrace failure as a learning opportunity. That doesn’t seem to be what the Agile elite leader community do when people fail at Agile.

There is a never ending barrage of opinions about fake Agile, charlatan coaches, the horrors of certification, and how generally Agile has lost its way, its purity sullied by mammon.

When I hear criticism of an ill-defined “they” who are doing fake Agile or fraudulent Agile or not Agile, all I hear is “burn the heretics!”.
Not only is it unhelpfully polarising, exclusionary, punitive of failure, but it’s not Agile dammit! (See what I did there)

Perhaps if the Agile community worried less about ideological purity and accepted more about the imperfect muck of human endeavour, we could all get on with making work better.

if you drop the finest purest essence into a bucket of dirty water it will improve the bucket but dilute and sully the essence.
So it has been with Agile.
The world is better, Agile is worse. Embrace it.

See, here’s the problem. By definition, you can’t go big bang Agile. It is a journey. You should increment and experiment towards an ideal way of working, exploring what works for your organisation.

Progress can only be measured from where you have come. Comparisons against ideal Agile are pointless, demoralising, exclusionary, elitist, and most of all contrary to the ethos of Agile.


Agile is supposedly empathetic, inclusive, supportive, and non punitive. We are supposed to assist those who fail to learn from their experience.
The reaction of the Agile elite to those who fail at Agile is the opposite: criticism, rejection, vilification  even.


Also, if we are to judge “failure”, to what standard do we measure “real” Agile? What should it comply with? And who does the assessment?

There is no wrong way, because all experiment includes failure, and all failure has value as learning. The only real failure is failure to learn from failure (I forget who taught me that).


If Agile is imposed against the will of the workers, then the Agile coaches and consultants are the foot soldiers not the generals. Don’t shoot the messenger.
We must spread new ways of managing, specifically invitation not imposition. (Thankyou Daniel Mezick ).

This will enable Agile. That’s why Teal Unicorn ‘s focus is changing managing.


Even the most crude Agile methodology or training doesn’t standardise work. They all say reflect and improve.

In cases where that really isn’t happening, where instead Agile is standardised, we should still regard a desire for Agile as a foundation for enlightenment not abuse.

I’ve jokingly characterised some of my initial engagement with clients as “We told them to do the DevOps and six months later they still aren’t doing it. They are broken, can you fix them?”. To which my reply is some gentle variant of “I don’t think it’s them”.


If Agile can’t evolve it isn’t agile.
If Agile is prescriptive that isn’t agile.
If Agile can’t adapt to circumstance, to what works today, that isnt agile.
If people make mistakes with Agile and we punish them, that isnt agile either.


[Work in progress: I will keep updating this post as the conversations continue]