Every now and then, a viewpoint arises that the agile community just doesn’t understand the reality in large companies. From my post to the PMI Agile CoP discussion list:

I can empathize with your frustration, having faced such challenges and myopia in certain circles. For example, there’s been an ongoing dialog about the role of management on self-organizing teams. See my Blog post http://lithespeed.blogspot.com/2009/11/self-organization-self-discipline-light.html for my own perspective. Wayne — I would echo Brad’s sentiment that you are not alone. There are several of us who have spent the last decade helping bring agility to large, mainstream companies. I would think that is why (at least in part) large, mainstream companies are going agile in an increasing way.

I also think it’s good to vent, so that we can hear what folks are really thinking out there and engage each other in productive discussion. However, I would caution against sweeping negative generalizations of any community: APLN, Scrum or the PMI. As someone engaged fairly closely with all three (Co-founder and current VP of the APLN, active CST, and Member, PMI CoP), I think folks in all the named organizations are making sincere and effective moves to take agile mainstream. I also believe that they are all sincerely working towards a pragmatic view of agility, albeit from their own frames of reference. Here are some anecdotes that should support my contention:

  • The CEO of the PMI was the keynote speaker at last year’s U.S Scrum Gathering. Close to half the attendees at that Scrum Gathering (as judged by a show of hands requested by Mr. Balestrero) were PMPs.
  • Personally, I have never seen or experienced the naïveté allude to at the APLN — either on the Board or at any of the chapters at which I regularly present. My present and past colleagues at the APLN: Jim Highsmith, Pollyanna Pixton, Bob Wysocki, Susan Fotajek, Kent McDonald and Todd Little to name a few, are all grappling with the same challenges you raise and take a very similar enterprise view as I do.
  • I have presented the same Agile PMO session that addresses governance and program management at the APLN (see http://www.aplnhouston.org/), the PMI (see http://www.pmiwdc.org/careerday2009-education#Sanjiv_Augustine) and the Scrum Gathering ( http://www.scrumalliance.org/events/105-orlando-scrum-gathering). Interestingly, I received very similar positive feedback from all 3 audiences.

While there are some voices in the agile community whose opinions might not hold sway in today’s corporate circles, I would respectfully request that we be careful not to paint everyone with the same brush. At the same time, I would also point out that these views are what move us to improve and get better as a whole even if we find them controversial today. For instance, we might question a Scrum industry leader’s belief that a self-empowered team should be allowed to select its own membership. Yet, in fact, that is exactly the norm at Whole Foods Corporation (From http://money.cnn.com/2007/09/26/news/companies/management_hamel.fortune/index.htm, “the underlying logic is powerful if unconventional: Whole Foods believes that critical decisions, such as whom to hire, should be made by those who will be most directly impacted by the consequences of those decisions”)

Thanks again for some thought provoking comments, and I think it is through this sort of exchange that the next advances in agile management will arise.