What Is Fake Agile and How to Avoid it?

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“Agility” is the key differentiator in the digital landscape, but the trend has prevailed to a point where being “truly agile” has resulted in fake business cultures. It is often applied to firms that do not have any claim to agility. 

So how can companies spot fake agile, and what can they do to avoid it? Before getting into that, let’s begin with what is fake agile and understand the dark side of agile in order to avoid it. 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: What is Fake Agile

Agile is a widely used Buzzword in the corporate world as companies want to be seen as savvy digital operators in the evolving business landscape.

However, the hype over Agility has only served to confuse its real meaning and the value it provides. The eagerness of organizations to identify as agile has birthed fake agile among companies that misunderstand its purpose or downright ignore its applications.

To know what is fake agile, understanding Agile is a given. So, what is Agile? In simple terms, Agile is an approach that promotes disciplined project management processes. It is a philosophy of Software Development that prioritizes iterative development of software and solutions through cross-collaboration and self-organizing teams.

A functioning Agile process embodies the philosophy of being agile by understanding and adopting the Agile framework. It can benefit your organization if well-understood and implemented, following the values and principles of the Agile Manifesto.

On the other hand, Fake Agile is an unsuccessful attempt at being agile. It does not follow or embrace the principles of Agile and, as a result, does not deliver success.

The problem here lies within the organization trying to shift their work processes to “being Agile.” They use language that resonates with the Agile philosophy without changing the old management practices. In other words, it is a representation, rather than rebranding, of the traditional waterfall practices disguised in Agile Jargon.

Chapter 2: Fake Agile vs. True Agile: the Difference

Fake Agile vs. True Agile: the Difference

Image source: process.st

Not every organization is agile. It takes time to implement actions and strategies to even begin calling a firm “agile.” There are a few differences pointed out by the DIB Guide: Detecting Agile BS that visibly sets true agile apart from fake agile. Listed below are the key differentiating elements.

No Collaboration with Users 

Getting feedback from the actual users of the software can significantly change the approach of the development and deployment process. Organizations that follow the agile methodology only in the name are not interested in communicating with the end-users. A brief of the customer is received by the customers that fill in the gaps of the requirements of the customers. There is no continuous feedback to improve the software functionality.

On the other hand, organizations following the true agile philosophy understand the importance of communicating and involving customers and users in the development and deployment process. The developers share every detail of the process and seek feedback to improve their process and the product.  

Considering requirements over the quality of software deployed.

Every software needs fixes and continuous updates to get ahead in the competition. However, organizations with a Fake Agile working process focus more on the requirements of the project than deploying a quick and useful version of it. 

On the contrary, true agile understands the importance of rapid iteration and prioritizes the working builds to be deployed in the first sprint. Developers work continuously on the basic version of the software and repeatedly improve it for better usability in the following sprints.

Stakeholders do not take responsibility

Every software or application built is to meet an end goal, i.e., usability for the end-users of the developed product. Following the Agile methods means the stakeholders already understand the needs of the audience for which they are developing the application. They continuously update and develop new features to better the user experience. 

In other words, the developers actively take responsibility for providing the end-users with value and continuously improve upon the features their product has to offer.

With Fake Agile, it is just the opposite. Their focus is more on the requirement of the client than on offering value to the audience. They defer from their responsibility and act autonomously.

Preferring manual over automation

Automating tedious processes in software development is a critical step in the agile journey. However, not every “agile” company is doing that. Fake agile does not give importance to automation and mostly follows manual processes. This, in turn, takes more time to finish a project at the given time.

Think automated process, faster and better development of products, and faster deployment of the application. Automation drives the agile KPIs and provides value to the users.  

Less importance of functionality

One of the key points of being agile is customer collaboration. Here customers are the end-users of the product that gives feedback to improve the functionality of the application. Simply put, agile is an iterative process where user feedback is considered necessary at every step of development.

In contrast, Fake Agile focuses more on the requirements of the project. Here, they do not give value to the user feedback. Their goal is to develop working software that is normatively pushed back to “another sprint.” 

Chapter 3: Myths and Reality of an “Agile Company”

Myths and Reality of an "Agile Company"

Agility encourages rapid and flexible responses to the changing business needs and user requirements without losing momentum or vision. However, myths and misunderstandings concerning agility can become common knowledge and mislead actions — taking the route to Fake Agile.

Since Agility is the key differentiator for organizations in today’s business landscape, it pays to avoid these myths and dig into reality:  

Myth #1: “Agile is a Methodology”

Reality: Agile is a Mindset — a philosophy, a way of thinking

This is perhaps the most common misconception about Agile. Organizations tend to get confused that agile is a methodology that needs to be adopted and implemented. Others consider it an iterative development process, retrospective meetings, and more.

agile manifesto

Agile is a Mindset. It is a philosophy following a set of 4 principles guided by the Agile manifesto:

  • Individuals and interactions over process and tools
  • working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change by following a plan

— The Agile Manifesto

agile manifesto

It can be said that Agile, being a methodology, is a misinterpretation of the principles that had led organizations to believe that it is about implementing a set of rules or practices. Simply put, it is a shift in thinking and a change in culture, requiring assent throughout the organization and not just the senior management that sets the tone.

The Agile mindset is an essential element in transforming businesses. It is a stepping stone for organizations assisting them to stay ahead of the digital business trends.  

Myth #2: “Agile means no documentation”

fake agile myth

Reality: Agile is not Anti-documentation. It focuses on working software instead of spending excessive time documenting every step of the project.

Documentation of an Agile project is more product-focused, business beneficial, and value-driven. For example, think about the minimum viable information that needs to be captured, understood, and shared with the team to further collaborate and strategize the process.

In simple words, documentation serves as a roadmap. It defines how the system works, what it will contain, its objectives, goals, end-users, and the developers aligned for the project. It increases team collaboration throughout the project, providing stakeholders with a better vision of the end product when it is in process. It does not require all details of the project but key points – enough to understand the objectives. 

Myth #3: “Agile follows a “Just Do It” way for operations”

Reality: there is significant planning and re-planning involved in all processes.

Detailed planning is essential for the effectiveness of the Agile framework as it is for the waterfall method. The difference, however, lies in timing. In Agile, planning is an ongoing process, while in waterfall, it takes place primarily at the beginning of a project.

Agile’s phased planning limits the up-front cost and allows projects to quickly adapt to changes as the project progresses. Before each sprint, there is a meeting to plan the objectives and obtain agreement on the requirements that will address to achieve accurate estimates of the time required to complete each requirement. During each sprint, a daily standup meeting is utilized to define the activities and goals of the day in précised detail.

One of the challenges with the incremental planning approach of agile is the need to properly manage the tech debt (the cost of code quality) and the willingness to revise prior decisions as the project advances, and more information is available. To overcome this challenge, it is essential to capture the user’s and system requirements to effectively prioritize each aspect of the backlog grooming process.

Myth #4: “Agile is chaotic”

agile stability

Reality: Agile combines stability and dynamism

A common myth about Agile is that it can be chaotic — explained in the above two myths, justified with truth — it is known to sacrifice reliability and predictability for a more dynamic organization.

Agility in an organization comes with stability and dynamism. Scaling dynamic practices can only be done when it is supported by a stable backbone that prevents chaos in the constantly changing organization. Many organizations are rigid to being over-structured and translate agile to being under-structured. They mistake it for “being agile.” The truth is, this mindset rapidly decays into chaos and unsystematic mode. That is fake agile and has nothing in common with agile practices.

Myth #5: Agility is Faster and all about productivity

fake agile

Reality: Agile is smaller and earlier. It is learning earlier, discovering customer value proposition earlier, and reducing risks earlier.

Speed and adaptability to changes are actually the primary advantages of Agile. Where faster speed and flexibility boost the project’s outcome, agility’s true value comes with creating a position of strength and not fixing broken productivity.

Agility is not a faster route for organizations to succeed. There is a possibility of failure with agility, as with any other traditional project management approach. But with agile, you will fail faster because it provides transparency in operations and enables you to foresee the results. With a quick response to the failing approach, it is easier to overcome them without having much effect on the product.

Myth #6: Agile is a Big Bang transformation of an organization

Reality: Transformation is a long-term process involving continuous learning and adapting to change.

When Agile is applied with a big bang approach across the entire organization, programs, and large projects, it is done so with significant risk. Top executives and leaders must be willing to cut through the cultural barriers and untether the teams from restraint, enabling them to achieve better. They need to view themselves as coaches and not just bosses, willing to:

  •  Seek guidance and input from the team
  • Commit to measuring success differently
  • Consider setbacks as making a new way to better opportunities and a way of growing with the team.

When transforming, it is important to accept that it is a journey that contains hurdles and may not always run smoothly. It is an evolution that takes time to deliver the best results expected in the first folds of evolving actions taken for transformation. Businesses evolve, and so does their approach to strategizing and planning efforts.

Business agility comes with a sense of proactively responding to change and having the confidence to deliver value — faster than the competition but without compromising on the quality of the product.

Chapter 4: Symptoms of Fake Agile

There will be numerous warning signs pointing to fake agile practices.

Let’s demystify them one by one.

Scrum Master becoming team lead

Scrum is a methodology of the Agile framework that helps teams in an organization to generate value through adaptive solutions to overcome challenges in a project. A scrum master is the closest thing to a project manager in a scrum team. But when a scrum master starts to dictate priorities for individuals in a team, it is a sign of failed scrum framework — a red flag for organizational agility!

Scrum teams are meant to be self-organizing. Scrum masters do not tell the team what needs to be done, nor are they responsible for preparing the sprint backlog. Nevertheless, the Scrum Guide 2020 points out that they are accountable for the Scrum team’s effectiveness.

The customers are not happy

There cannot be a more painful symptom than unhappy customers for fake agile. The core principle of all agile frameworks is the satisfaction of the customers. Everything else comes after this, even agility.

Organizations claiming to be agile often focus more on frameworks and technicalities of “being agile.” They focus on making the sprints more efficient, their teams motivated, and the product owner happy. While following the agile practices in their daily processes, they often forget to involve the customer as they should. So, despite using the agile framework, if the customers are not happy; it’s a sign that your organization is not agile.

The scrum team is too big

The scrum guide suggests having a team of 5-11 people, including the scrum master and the product owner. Consider it like an armed force; the smallest unit of an army or squad consists of 7-14 soldiers led by a sergeant.

Having a restricted number of people is to achieve better communication and productivity. If a scrum team consists of too many people, it can lead to the ineffectiveness of the project. Reorganizing one big team into a cohesive scrum team focused on the same product is better than a scattered and unorganized team.

“We have become Agile.”

Agile, as described before, is a journey, not a destination. It is not as simple as ticking all the boxes and calling it a day. It is a work in progress with a learning curve for all individuals of an organization.

An essential principle of the Agile Manifesto is the reflection and desire to become better. This is why teams have sprint retrospectives and reviews. Where the reviews focus on the end goals of the sprints, the retrospectives highlight everything that can be improved for the next sprint.

Chapter 5: How to Avoid Fake Agile

Putting emphasis on values over practices

When following a particular business framework or methodology, every step of the task is predefined and inflexible. This inflexibility and predefined actions are a source of fake agile practices. This is why being change-oriented and adaptable is essential within the agile approach.

Emphasizing values over practices means the team is more focused on the objectives and overall goals of the business. The critical thing to understand here is why you do what you are doing rather than which practices will be appropriate to use.

This is not to say that agile practices are not valuable because they are present to bring value to a project, but that is not where the teams’ priorities should lie.

If you are not agile, do not pretend to be

As said in the previous chapters, labeling a team “agile” is one of the biggest red flags indicating fake agile. Being agile is a continuous practice, and companies that understand it are unlikely to preach about their “agile-ness.”

But why do companies say “they are agile” in the first place?

Although there is no definite answer to clarify the claim for every organization, the most possible reason for all the false claims is time. As said above, transformation to being agile is a long and time-consuming process. This is why many organizations cut corners, begin with specific practices, and call themselves agile before they truly own the label.

There is an interesting quote that is generally attributed to Albert Einstein and perfectly fits the situation of Fake Agile:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

In simple words, fake agile is practicing a methodology over and over again without adapting to its values. It is only better to avoid fake agile. Instead of cutting corners, take time to find the problems and their solutions to achieve organizational agility.

Research before implementation

Agility is a mix of philosophy, values, and framework, and all of it is focused on one thing: adaptability. However, this adaptability means true agile is impossible to measure or quantify. Considering this uniqueness of agile, it can be scary for businesses that are used to traditional and measurable methods such as Waterfall.

Nonetheless, businesses choose to move to agile because it is more efficient than the traditional approaches if done right.

The problem that mostly gives way to fake agile is that businesses ready to sign up to benefit from agility do not embrace its values and are rigid to change. They implement the agile framework without understanding or researching the philosophy behind it. It means they are not adhering to its values and philosophy and only doing agile instead of being agile. This is likely to result in the unsuccessful implementation of agile practices and processes.

Chapter 6: How to implement Agility

High speed of execution, adaptability, a commitment to innovate and finding creative solutions, and implementing agility doesn’t just help organizations to survive but thrive in highly-disruptive markets.

With that said, let’s learn the five key steps to implement agility.

1- The shift in the culture of an organization

There is no doubt that any change implemented within an organization is done with a correct mindset. This is also required when setting foot on the journey to achieve agility.

It is implemented in such a way that the whole organization will come forward to pursue it. Simply put, it begins with the top management setting the tone for Agile implementation. It is essential to research before implementing. By doing so, the leaders will be able to create an environment for the team where they can learn, experiment, and improve. The management must trust the team to get the job done. They must be flexible to give the team space to overcome challenges and risks while making mistakes and learning from them.

2- Understanding more than one agile approach

There is no denying that a company must understand and take multiple routes for agile project management. Such a stance can assist in bringing greater flexibility to the operations of a company.

In simple words, every project has its own requirements, and there is no one-size-fits-all concept that can be implemented here. Therefore, understanding more than one approach to agile is necessary to achieve true agility.

3- Empowering the employees

True agility is only achievable when its values are ingrained in the company’s culture. That means every individual in the company must be able to adapt and implement it.

Consider talent acquisition — professionals hired for a project or a department should be hired based on their experience and knowledge. Training should be incorporated to develop skills and promote learning for the growth of every employee working in an organization.

Furthermore, leaders should be developed within an organization. The main goal is to create technical, adept, expert employees with soft skills and leadership qualities – so agility can be practiced.

4- Inspect and adapt

Teams implementing agility understand that a systematic and gradual development is more advantageous than a big-bang development. Therefore, the team should be able to decide how a project should be handled. It means bureaucracy must be eliminated so better decision-making can be introduced.

When a team is focused on learning, they can become more creative at coming up with solutions for better product development.

There is no right way of doing business. Where agile is beneficial, there are also some setbacks that can impact businesses negatively. Therefore, careful implementation is recommended for all signing up to become an agile organization.

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