The Balkanization of Agile

Anyone who’s ever taken an interest in history is typically fascinated by the country of Yugoslavia. Initially formed in 1918 by a merger of multiple provisional states, by 1946 the country was comprised of nine (9) different “states” all with different histories and demographic complexities. Yugoslavia eventually split from Stalin’s U.S.S.R. and attempted to function as an autonomous Communism-based nation under Josip Tito.

Now let’s look at the history of the agile movement: birthed from the minds of software practitioners (each with their own opinions and predilections) it has come to unify a population of professionals just as diverse as the population of Yugoslavia. Multiple types of people across multiple organizations, nations, even continents have unified in trying to utilize these teachings to make work “better.”

Back to Yugoslavia…even with all this progress the country was marred by ethnic tensions, differing philosophies of government, and protests (which actually sounds much like the present-day United States, but that’s a topic for another post!) After Tito’s death in 1980 internal tensions in the country started to drive it apart, culminating in brutal, bloody combat in the Yugoslav wars from 1990-95 and the creation of seven (7) new, independent nations. These new nations are notoriously hostile and/or uncooperative with each other, which has spawned a term to describe this scenario: “balkanization”.

In capital-“A” Agile we have ended up with a cottage industry around said term; you can’t trip and fall without running into an “agile transformation guru” trying to sell you their services. Everybody has a book, a blog, a podcast that they’re attempting to monetize. There are countless certifications, exams, and fancy-sounding suffixes you can attach to your LinkedIn profile (for the right fee, of course!) Normally I would say this is a good thing, but the “cracks” in our unified façade are starting to show.

For example, in the last few months I’ve seen:

·      One manifesto signer get into an argument with another practitioner who has a differing opinion around the aspects of modernizing the manifesto (on Twitter, making the exchange public)

·      A different manifesto signer created an online kerfluffle around a practice that is becoming widely-accepted in the agile space (again, on Twitter)

·      One “agile organization” has disallowed any of its practitioners with a particular certification from teaching a particular scaling framework

·      Numerous instances of agile pragmatists and agile dogmatists having public arguments on LinkedIn (complete with all the logical fallacies that are always a part of this type of discourse.)

These are just a few examples of the Balkanization of “agile”. We now have multiple organizations, personalities, salesmen, practitioners, all piling on each other trying to tear each other’s products/organizations/opinions down. For every conference that brings us together we have exponentially more examples of agilists attacking each other. And for what?

If history has taught us anything it’s that this approach is doomed to fail; we’re all stronger together, and chipping away at each other bears only rotten fruit.

To all the practitioners that feel the need to engage in this type of communication I say: Grow up. Be an adult. If your product/framework/book/content is any good it will inevitably rise to the top. Attacking others does nothing but ruin your image and turn people off to what could be a revolutionary ideas.

To all of those who are on the outside looking in I say: don’t automatically ignore the ideas of someone because they seem confrontational. Divorce the person from the teaching and evaluate said teaching on its own merits regardless of how reprehensible the mouthpiece may seem.

Our industry is quickly coming upon a tipping point, and if the outside opinion is that we are all petulant children with immature axes to grind NOBODY wins.