Why Agile Needs Brands

Ron Jeffries posted a provoking article about why sectionalism in the Agile world is stupid.  I can’t say I disagree.   I’d add that Ron’s opinion is a matter of perspective.

I remember  when I first became involved in the Agile community and received my cruiserweight championship belt,  known as my Certified Scrum Master certificate.  I needed brands and models at that time to make sense of this new ecosystem I was entering.

I added my new fangled credentials to my email signature, updated my resume and was proud of it.   Heck, after I became “certified” I still asked my instructor if Scrum says we’re suppose to estimate bugs or not.  Now I realize how stupid, to me, that question is.

Ron points out that sectionalism is all about selling, and as a consultant, I’d agree with that.  The thought-leaders in the Agile world don’t need gimmicks and labels and brands to make a living.  They can sell based on their name because they’ve earned it.   Make no mistake, selling yourself and your brand isn’t a bad thing.  Well, unless you exploit a lightening talk at an open space to schlep your products.  That’s a bit douchy in my book.

My objection to sectionalism is due to Methodology bigots.  Darryl Conner describes what this means, but I’m guessing you’ve got the gist of it already.

He states that people latch on to other people who share the same set of beliefs and consider others who don’t share those believes as second rate consultants.  If you’ve seen some of the awesome “kanban vs agile” flame wars on twitter, you’ll understand that!  GO ahead and tweet “@jasonlittle said kanban is nothing more than waterfall with sticky notes on the wall“,  grab some popcorn and watch the show!

We are all biased towards what we believe is the best method, tool or practice.  Some people try not to be, but we all are.   I subscribe to the ideas in Patrick Lencioni’s book, Getting Naked. I focus on helping people learn how to solve their own business problems with respect to managing work and people by doing real work with them before I try to sell anything.

That said, playing buzzword bingo with a new client can be helpful for them to make sense of the situation they’re in.  It’s all about your style and your schtick for how you sell yourself.  Some clients want to be sold Scrum.  Some want to be sold solutions and, in the case of one of the clients I’m working with now, they want help figuring out what will help them deliver more frequently.

Of course, I am selling something too.  I’m selling Lean Change Management (LCM) and yes I’m mentioning that intentionally.  Douchy?  I’m sure I’ll hear about it in the comments.  LCM is my way of abstracting out methods and models to help people learn how to build their own approach to managing change.  Yes, the irony is not lost on me.  I find it helpful to expose people to many ideas from many communities and most of my clients find it helpful.   Although sometimes it frustrates them because they just want a straight answer, not the “it depends” answer.   

As Ron points out, all of these ideas work together but it takes a lot of experience and experiments to figure out why they do and how to make them work together.  In the earlyu stages of learning,  you don’t know what you don’t know.

He does believe it’s not going to change.  I don’t think it will either, nor do I think it should.   I believe models, brands and labels are how we make sense of our surroundings.

Brands help people who are looking for a solution understand there is a “thing” out there.   I believe it’s reassuring for people and that it reduces the stress caused by uncertainty.   Brands provoke an emotional response so I see no harm in all the various Agile brands out there because all of them are nothing more than new interpretations and addtions to Deming’s PDCA cycle.

That said, if your consultant is blindly pushing Kanban or Scrum or Methodology X, you’ve hired a methodology bigot.  Fire them immediately and figure it out on your own.  Or hire me!

Yes, always be selling yourself and your brands.  Those that are intrigued with buzzword bingo will hire you or buy your framework because it invokes a feeling in them that resonates with their beliefs.  Don’t worry, there will be plenty of people that will tell you everything that is wrong with your brand and your beliefs.