Why Agile frameworks fail and what to do about it: #ToolsOverFrameworks, the context-aware solution

4 minutes read

I have worked at many organizations that were trying to adopt Agile using a framework as the starting point. SAFe, LeSS, or even Scrum were the frameworks of choice.
Scrum, for example, is a very simple framework. It stands to reason that it would be easy to adopt and therefore benefit from the value that Agile brings. Or is it?
If we look deeper, Scrum is a collection of patterns or thinking tools. The daily meeting pattern, the time box pattern, the single owner of the requirements pattern, etc. There are many patterns that were considered when creating Scrum, and together they form what we know as the Scrum framework.
As the Agile community, the problem we face is that Scrum (and other frameworks) did not make Agile adoption easy. The Scrum Theatre many teams play attests to that fact. Using a framework is a problematic approach for Agile adoption because it assumes a prescriptive solution would help us tackle agile adoption. However, Agile adoption is a problem that requires constant evolution and changes.
As the Agile community, the problem we face is that Scrum (and other frameworks) did not make Agile adoption easy.
We need a different approach. One that builds on what we’ve learned from others (books, podcasts, conferences), but also that adapts to our context and the specific reality we live in.

The patterns we’ve seen working before, fail later on

When we work with different teams, we start to get a “feel” for what works, and what doesn’t. We try to apply the same ideas to another team, and then start to understand what consultants mean when they say “it depends…”

When we work with different teams, we start to get a “feel” for what works, and what doesn’t.

For example, the star-fish retrospective may work great for one team, but it just bombs when we use it with another team. That’s ok. Nothing works all of the time. The good thing though, is that there’s always something that works, we just need to know what it is.

The solution is not a process or a framework, it’s a toolbox!

Having worked with many teams, I’ve come to value a few tools that I try to use often. Some retrospective formats are one example of that. But not every retrospective format will work, so I’ve collected over time a large set of “thinking tools” or retrospective formats that I use depending on the context.
As a Product Owner, I’ve successfully used Backlogs. But in some teams Backlogs get abused and create the “slave to the backlog” anti-pattern. With those teams, I’ve been using Impact Mapping and Story Mapping instead. Different situations require different tools. The challenge is collecting a good and large enough toolbox, and the stories to go with it.
Stories, when attached to a tool, help us define where the tool will work, and when it might not. Stories are our “labels” for tools.

Collect tools, not frameworks

No doubt you will be part of teams using different frameworks: Kanban, Scrum, Extreme Programming or Scaled Agile (SAFe), Large Scale Scrum (LeSS), etc.
Don’t fight the framework! Instead, use concrete tools that help you progress and achieve your goals.
As Agile Coaches, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Team Members, we should be collecting tools, not frameworks. Our goal is to deliver something valuable to our customers/users, not be good at SAFe, Scrum or some other framework.

How we collect tools

We collect tools and stories by sharing our experiences, and listening to those that have solved the problems we are facing now.
For a while I’ve been collecting challenges and tools that product developers use to solve their most important challenges. I’ve collected those in the form of workshops that tackle specific types of problems.
In the #NoEstimates workshops, I share tools and techniques that have helped me and many others deliver on time. Sometimes you can’t fight the deadline. If the product must be out for Christmas, you just deliver. Period. How? That’s what we tackle in the NoEstimates workshop: tools, techniques and thinking models that help deliver on time. These tools are context specific, they come with stories and we practice those in the workshop. Click here to find out more and join the next #NoEstimates workshop.
In the Product Owner Success Toolbox workshop, we review, and practice tools that have helped teams deliver products and services that have a market impact. Impact for the users, customers and also the companies we work with. The biggest waste is that of human potential, with these tools we build our Product Ownership toolbox, and tackle the biggest challenges people have faced when trying to define and deliver products with market impact. Click here to find out more and join the next Product Owner Success Toolbox workshop.
In the Agile Strategy workshop (still in alpha, contact me to know more), we tackle the biggest challenges that companies have faced aligning the teams, and focusing larger number of teams on concrete value for the customers and the organisation. The Agile Strategy workshop collects tools related to funding of work, strategy definition, product strategy, strategy deployment, and progress follow-up at the organizational level. Email me to know more about the Agile Strategy Workshop.

Join the conversation

Have an opinion on the use of Tools vs. Frameworks? Join the conversation on Twitter/LinkedIn with the hashtag #ToolsOverFrameworks

2 major challenges I faced as a product developer

When I started developing software as a team member, and later as a project manager, I started to face some of the challenges that you are probably familiar with.

With the little experience I had, these challenges proved to be difficult to solve. During part of my journey, they even felt impossible to solve. I know better now…

The first and most important challenge for me was the need to meet a strict deadline.

We ended up calling it the Christmas problem.
Continue reading 2 major challenges I faced as a product developer

BONUS: Jeff Gothelf on how to redefine the measure of success for software development

When Agile broken into the scene, it was mostly about the techniques to develop releases of the product quickly. However, that was a time when products were released only a few times a year at best. Today products evolve continuously and that changes how product Owners and Product Managers need to interact with the teams. In this episode, we explore some of the key lessons Jeff has learned working with product organizations all over the world. In short: Product Managers also need to adapt to Agile, it’s not just the teams!

Continuous product development is different from what we used to know as product development

Read on for the detailed show notes and all the links.

Continue reading BONUS: Jeff Gothelf on how to redefine the measure of success for software development

BONUS: Jeff Patton shares his view on the Product Owner role, and what Scrum Masters can do to help

In this episode, we explore some of the critical lessons Jeff learned in his own career as a Product Owner. We review the missing aspects in most Product Owner role implementations and discuss the tools that have helped Jeff as a Product Owner first, and later his students.

The first steps of Jeff’s journey as a Product Owner

Read on for the detailed show notes, and all the links

Continue reading BONUS: Jeff Patton shares his view on the Product Owner role, and what Scrum Masters can do to help

BONUS: Dean Leffingwell on scaling Agile and the Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe

scaled agile overviewFor this first Christmas 2018 special we focus on scaling Agile, and specifically how the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) can help organizations take Agile and apply it in the large.

There are many systems that require multiple teams to work together. As more and more industries adopt software as a core part of their services and products, we also see many organizations developing many products concurrently, and large engineering organizations that require coordination across tens or hundreds of teams, including non-software teams.

In this episode, we discuss how SAFe can help you take Agile to that type of environments and organizations.

Read on for the detailed show notes, as well as all of the links.

Continue reading BONUS: Dean Leffingwell on scaling Agile and the Scaled Agile Framework, SAFe

Product Owner coaching challenges for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches

As part of our upcoming “Coach Your Product Owner” course, we’ve been hard at work creating simple and actionable tools you can use to help your Product Owner progress. But that coaching cannot happen unless we tackle the biggest problems we have when coaching Product Owners. So, last week I asked people who receive my Newsletter to help me answer this question:

When it comes to Coaching and Supporting your Product Owner(s), what is the single Biggest Challenge that you are facing right now?

The reason for this question is my belief that, as Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches, we must help the Product Owners as part of our duties. Sometimes those duties may be just about helping them manage/facilitate a particular session, but often we need to help the Product Owner grow their skills, knowledge, and experience with Agile product development. All aspects of it.

So what are the key challenges we face, when coaching and supporting our Product Owners?

Read on to find out…

Continue reading Product Owner coaching challenges for Scrum Masters and Agile Coaches

How Agile and Lean saved a hospital from bankruptcy! Twice!

All of us working with Agile and Scrum are used to the (sometimes) large transformations that these approaches can have at work. But it is not everyday we see the impact, the amazing impact, it can have on other types of work. How about this: Marcus Hammarberg, walks into a hospital and the hospital is about the crumble. Literally! The roof has collapsed, there’s dripping water and buckets everywhere and the second floor is overrun with debris. But that is not where the problems end…

A few months later, and using Kanban, Agile and Lean ideas the hospital is saved. But how did that happen?

Marcus explains his story, and the amazing transformation in his latest book: The Bungsu (now available for pre-order at Amazon), and we have a short video to explain the main points of the story right here.

Click on to see the video, and sign-up to get the first chapter of the book.

Continue reading How Agile and Lean saved a hospital from bankruptcy! Twice!

How trust, kanban and a little structure changed a life

Work life is a serious thing. We spend (at least) one-third of our time awake at work, and in some cases much more time than what we spend with our families most days of the year.

Now imagine what would happen if your work would be falling apart. You have too much work, and are being constanly interrupted. Your authority and ability to contribute is undermined. And on top of it your place of work is literally crumbling: the roof collapsed and what is left is being innudated by dirty water that runs off from the roof’s debri.

Meet Ibu Elsye!  Ibu Elsye is the lady dressed in black in the picture or “Mrs.” Elsye if you don’t speak Indonesian ;).

She’s General Manager of a hospital, Rumah Sakit Bungsu (aka The Bungsu), that Marcus Hammarberg helped, in Indonesia. General Manager; what is that, in a hospital? I’m happy you asked: basically she’s in charge of everything that is not health care. Food, laundry, maintenance, security staff, drivers … you name it.

In The Bungsu, if you need something fixed – go to Ibu Elsye.

But Ibu Elsye’s work life was not going very well…

Continue reading How trust, kanban and a little structure changed a life

Using Lean and Agile to save a hospital from bankruptcy: twice! The Bungsu Hospital Story

When Marcus Hammaberg first started to work with the Bungsu hospital they were in a devastating situation. Their finances were on a bottom low after years of decline of patients visiting, their operational permit had not been renewed and they were operating on a probation, the staff was disengaged and blasé … oh, that’s right – the roof of the entire second floor had collapsed.

Read on for more…

Continue reading Using Lean and Agile to save a hospital from bankruptcy: twice! The Bungsu Hospital Story

BONUS: Mary and Tom Poppendieck on Lean Software Development, Business Agility and how autonomous teams enable adaptability

Tom and Mary Poppendieck have authored several books over the years about what needs to change in how we develop software to be able to meet the demands of the market, competition, and the growth in complexity of technology businesses. A recurring pattern they have witnessed is that people keep trying to discover a “silver bullet”. We explore why that is a bad idea and some of the changes in product development that make it an impossible quest.

Read on for the details, and all the links shared during the show.

Continue reading BONUS: Mary and Tom Poppendieck on Lean Software Development, Business Agility and how autonomous teams enable adaptability