The Agile Consultant Manifesto

by The Agile Consultant @AgileRandall

I’ve been doing Agile consulting for over a decade now and I thought it was time to give something back to the community. I love Agile, I want it to live on as long as possible and I really want to help the other Agile consultants out there who are slogging it away each week. This is my manifesto.

Ceremony over Principals

Principals are hard to sell and far too open to discussion. Ceremony, the carrying out of rituals such as various types of meetings, estimation practices and the like provide a platform on which the consultant can milk a client for as long as possible.

Rituals need to be taught and policed. They offer a good scapegoat when productivity falls. Using the line about the team not yet doing the rituals correctly has a proven track record for keeping management off your back and often makes your client double down on the Agile consulting.

Because there is a long list of rituals to learn and each can be quite complex, the consultant is able to justify continued invoicing for many months, with just a single team.

Rules Enforcement over Self-Organising Teams

Self-organising teams needs to be avoided at all costs. In my experience, teams that are given the freedom to self-organise usually transition out of Scrum. This is dangerous for two reasons:

  1. It damages the Scrum brand
  2. If developers can self-organise then Agile consultants are no longer needed, hence no more invoicing.

The solution is reinforcing the ceremony of Agile. Make the focus the rules and ceremonial meetings.

References to Agile principals are the number one cause of self-organisation!

Focus on rules and rule enforcement. This distracts people from the principals and warrants your continued involvement (and invoicing) with the client.

Discrediting of Experienced Team Members over Listening and Respecting

Experienced team members are often aware of Agile principals and might have even introduced Agile, based on principals, back when Agile was first emerging onto the tech scene. These members are a threat to the Agile consultant. The most effective method for neutering this threat is through discrediting them. Highlight to management that software developers are great at the geeky tech stuff but everyone knows they struggle with the people powers. It is best to leave the process to the experts.

If management buy it, these members might even leave the team, making your life easier and prolongs your invoicing period.

Agile is Everything over A Holistic Approach

You need to sell these point hard:

Teams and projects without Agile will fail, period.

Throw in the word waterfall a bunch of times here. Then hit them with what they want to hear:

Teams and projects that implement Agile properly will always succeed. They will bring value to the business, delivering exactly what the business needs when it needs it. While other practices, like technical practices are nice, without Agile they are close to worthless.

This hammers home that Agile is awesome and also works to undermine their technical talent. Seeds of doubt must be sown early on so that if there is resistance from the technical folk, then their arguments come from a position of weakness. Management have to think that the professionals are here and it ain’t their technical experts.

When things don’t go well, just focus on that the team is still not doing Agile right. They haven’t changed from the waterfall mindset that has led to so much inefficiency and failed projects. Management need to think that things will improve so they continue to pay your invoices!

Lying over Honesty

Highlight to management that there is always a pain period at first. If team morale suffers, or productivity falls you need to lie, it’s as simple as that. If management think it is just some growing pains they’ll be willing to pay up for months and if they’re seriously dysfunctional – even years!

Status Quo over Real Organisational Transformation

Organisational transformation is a loser’s proposition. First of all it’s hard! You need real charisma and real experience, your Scrum certificate doesn’t help at all.

Second, management doesn’t really want it. They think that Agile is basically a magic pill that your organisation takes and suddenly it is transformed into a highly productive mega machine. That’s why they hired you! If they thought it required organisational transformation they would get in real talent – the business consultants with MBAs under their belt. So go with it and sell them that pill. Don’t even try and make cultural or organisational changes, just stick to the Agile ceremony stuff and see it through as long as they’re willing to accept your invoices.

Fudging Metrics over Continuous Improvement

You’ve sold management on the productivity gains they’ll see in a few months time. They’ll probably want to see reports and stuff that demonstrate this improvement so you have to know your tools.

Become proficient in the project management tooling they use, such as Jira. The best Agile consultants I’ve known are wizards with Jira reports.

Some tips:

  • It is likely that most metrics will not support the story that you want to tell, so be selective of the metrics. Find a metric that supports your claims and focus on it.
  • Never agree up front to measure success by a given metric or suite of metrics. You’ll need the freedom later on to stitch together the metrics creatively.
  • Make up graphs from fake metrics. This really depends on the organisation and your relationship to them. If you think you can get away with it then just do it, it’ll save you loads of time and effort.

Finally, avoid continuous improvement like the plague. Continuous improvement leads to change and can get out of control. You need to stick to the Scrum letter of the law and not deviate. If team members look like they’re trying to implement continuous improvement then shut them down. Reiterate that we go through all the ceremonious meetings and tasks for a reason. Close to 20 years of learning and experience shows that it works.

If the team doesn’t accept that then you’ll need to resort to other techniques like discrediting team members, pushing members to leave or convincing the manager to step in. Micro managers are your friend and if incompetent enough can do most of your work for you, leaving you more time to put in your invoices.

Blame The Developer over Anything Else

Whether things are going well or not you need to be undermining the software developers and technical talent. Management needs a degree of distrust in its team so that it feels like it needs you.

When things are going badly, poor productivity, mushrooming technical debt etc, then you’ll be glad of all your hard work in discrediting them. Management won’t be sure who is to blame and you’ll likely get a few more invoices in before it’s time to move on.

Final Thoughts

There are still plenty of companies out there that don’t practice Agile, organisation wide yet. Couple that with the fact that management don’t know shit about software development and you’ll find no shortage of clients. These idiots spending tens of thousands on univeristy degrees and MBAs just don’t get it. You can spend a couple of weeks and a few hundred on a Scrum Master certificate and just walk into these clueless enterprises and charge big bucks. I am turning companies away all the time even at my crazy hourly rate.

But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the future. The long term issue is not that we’ll reach market saturation but a grass roots anti-Agile movement. More and more of the software developers are getting tired of Scrum and Agile in general. Normally I wouldn’t worry too much because its management that calls us in and they don’t know the first thing about software development. But Agile started as a grass roots developer led movement and the tide could shift again. But like I said I’m not too worried, enterprises are always a decade behind and I figure we’ve got another 5-10 years before the next process fad comes along.

If any of you Scrum Masters out there want to contribute to the manifesto then please leave a comment. It can be tough out there for us Agile consultants and we need to look out for each other.

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