Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

Posts about Autonomy

Humane Agile

This Jan Wischweh piece surveying the recent literature on the the so-called “agile crisis” is a bit of a slog, but these bits caught my attention:

One striking symptom of the Agile Crisis is the impositions of Agile on teams, which seems to be a common practice today. If Agile is so great and really gives more power and autonomy to the developers, why is it commonly imposed by upper management?


Trust is the basis for any good communication. But Trust cannot be demanded. It needs to be earned. This Problem is highly related to Agile as trust is essential for any Agile team. But it can never be imposed.

And the issue of trust cannot be addressed without looking at the problem of power. Agile, especially Scrum, is more about efficiency than about empowering developers and it is not a shift away from Taylorism. On closer inspection, this will be visible in every single conflict within companies trying to transform towards Agile. Quite the opposite is true: it makes people more replaceable and controllable and is a modern and competitive form of Management.

Indeed, management’s focus on process and reproducibility (as in Taylorism) often drives the adoption of agile development processes. But truly autonomous agile teams must be empowered to make their own decisions. That means inviting them to adopt agile practices, rather than imposing those practices on them, and it means trusting teams to make decisions.

In other words, unilaterally determining team composition, deciding that they’ll do “agile” or “scrum” or “kanban”, and reserving the power to override their decisions perpetuates a traditional focus on repetitive tasks and control, rather than autonomy and craft. It demonstrates a lack of trust in the team, and without that trust, the team won’t trust management, either — an untenable, potentially catastrophic situation. No wonder “Agile” fails so often that we now have an “agile crisis”.

I keep coming back to the fundamental idea that teams are made out of people, and management should always support, promote, and empower the people in the company with the autonomy to excel and to do their best work. People over process.