Agile practices vs culture

So, the big debate about agile culture versus agile practices is raging. First Allen Holub wrote a blog entitled The Agile Holocracy. Andrew Binstock followed up with The Corruption of Agile. Uncle Bob then countered with The True Corruption of Agile. I find all three posts well worth reading even if I disagree with elements in all of them. Since Uncle Bob’s post is the last one I want to focus on what I feel is a logical error in his main argument.

I agree with Uncle Bob about the dilution of agile. If you only try to embrace agile culture without the practices you will end up with people that are good at hugging each other but not so good in producing valuable software. What about the opposite? Will the adoption of agile practices lead to a better result?

The following is a rough transcript of a conversation I recently had:

“So, how often do you release?”

“Once a week”

“Ok, so you release to production once a week.”

“No, no. We release to our staging environment once a week.”

“If you don’t release to production it isn’t really a release.”

“Well, we call it a release. We release to production 4 times a year.”

Inaudible sigh “What kind of meetings do you have?”

“Well, we have standup meetings.”

“And how often are those?”

“Once a week, and we actually don’t stand since the meetings are about an hour long.”

“What do you cover in these meetings”

“We give the project manager updated ETC on our tasks, create estimates for new tasks…”


Is it really this bad? For my part, I have experienced this type of conversation so often that I always double check what people mean with the agile practices they claim to be using. If someone starts talking about releasing often, I immediately check what they mean with the word release.

The point here is that Uncle Bob implicitly assumes that if you adopt an agile practice it will be practiced in a way that conforms to his idea of how it should be practiced. That is not what happens. Agile practices without any understanding of the values leads to cargo cult. You have to understand why releasing often into production is so important and that things like “potentially shippable releases” are very poor substitutes.

My point of view is therefore that agile culture and agile practices are mutually interdependent. I think this explains why agile is so much more successful in companies that adopt it while they are small and grow with it. Most of the corporate adoptions of agile I have witnessed would make Dilbert cry.

Niklas Björnerstedt

Posted on 2014.04.04 at 12:30

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About Niklas

Born in Sweden, grew up in New York, lives in Norway. Yes, I have problems with identity, but I do think that my background helps me see things from a different perspective.

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