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

BONUS: Bas Vodde on LeSS, Scaled Agile and Scrum

Bas Vodde worked with Craig Larman on creating LeSS, probably the second most popular agile scaling framework in the market at this time.

In this episode, we talk about what is not so well known about LeSS, its origins, and we dive deeper into the topic of scaling. What does it mean, what it does not mean, and how LeSS can help organizations take advantage of agile in large product development teams.

Continue reading BONUS: Bas Vodde on LeSS, Scaled Agile and Scrum

Steve Tendon on what the scaling frameworks are missing and how to get it to your organization

There’s some serious gaps in the current Agile scaling frameworks. We know that because we are the start of the scaling journey. But what are the scaling frameworks missing today that we should be looking out for? Steve shares his views on what is missing and how looking at the system performance can help us find the gap, as well as what solutions are already out there to help us close the gap. In this episode we discuss the TameFlow community as well as the concept of Throughput Accounting, from the Theory of Constraints.

About Steve Tendon

Steve Tendon popularised the Theory of constraints in some of the agile community and he is also the Creator of the TameFlow systems thinking approach which nurtures breakthrough performance innovation. This system is described in the book with the same name: Tame the Flow

You can link with Steve Tendon on LinkedIn and connect with Steve Tendon on Twitter.

Antti Tevanlinna discusses how to scale agile software development

How to scale agile software development? is a question we hear often these days. Antti describes his experiences, how long it took him and his colleagues to get it right, and what they learned in the process. Scaling agile software development isn’t easy, and it is important we learn about what has failed in the past.

About Antti Tevanlinna

scrum_master_toolbox_podcast_Andy_Deighton Antti is an agile practitioner, who got started with agile in my own very first Agile project way back in 2004. He’s been through all kinds of roles, from team member, to management, to customer-facing roles.
You can connect with Antti Tevanlinna on twitter, and check Antti Tevanlinna’s blog.