Planning a session on Agile in Dysfunctional Environments

Posted on January 10th, 2008 in Agile, conference by siddharta || 6 Comments

I’ll be in Hyderabad this Saturday (12th Jan) for the Hyderabad Scrum Unconference. I’m looking forward to meeting other Scrum practitioners from around the country. Most of the Scrum and Agile conferences and user groups in India are targeted at people who do not have experience with Agile and the goal is to increase the awareness of Agile.

I’m really itching to meet up with people who have a couple of years of Agile experience under their belt, and I’m hoping that the crowd at this unconference will have some more experience so that we can go beyond the “Intro to agile” type of talks into some more advanced stuff.

I’m thinking of doing a session at the unconference on “Agile in Dysfunctional Environments.” If you’ve been practicing agile for any length of time, you’ll eventually encounter less than ideal situations. For example, what do you do if management won’t let the dev team have direct contact with the customer? Or due to internal politics, you cant have the testing team co-located with the dev team? Maybe the team is distributed?

For each of these situations there is one “prescribed” answer, which is that Scrum exposes the dysfunction in the organisation and you are supposed to eliminate the block. While this is a satisfying explanation on a theoretical level, I’m not convinced that this is always the right answer. There is often something good to be had from eliminating organisational dysfunction, but often it is not immediately possible to do so.

Inter-department politics, for example, may be deeply entrenched and it is no good running the project to the ground while the dysfunction is being sorted out (if it ever will be sorted out). There are many such situations where it might make more sense to work around the problem is a suitable manner than to attempt to recreate the organization from top to bottom.

Distributed Agile is a perfect example of this. Technically, distributed agile is a bit of an oxymoron because Agile teams are supposed to be co-located. Although I am all for co-locating as much as possible, there are situations where you cannot co-locate and rather you have to make the best of the distributed team that you have with you.  Dealing with fixed bid projects is another such situation.

Incidentally, Thoughtworks, which is probably one of the best known Agile companies, has both distributed teams as well as a large share of fixed bid projects (at least in the India offices), which just goes to prove that we should not be highly dogmatic about what is prescribed.

Anyway, that is the rough outline of the session I had in mind. If you are in Hyderabad on Saturday, do drop in and say Hello.

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6 Responses to “Planning a session on Agile in Dysfunctional Environments”

  1. Mike Vizdos Says:


    Sorry I will not be able to attend! Doh… it sounds like it will be a blast.

    Please feel free to get the word out about the site I do on Scrum called — you are welcome to use the cartoons there for conversation starters and posting along the walls if you are interested. I have allowed other groups like your use these and the feedback that I receive has ALL been great — that the attendees LOVE the comic strips and see how some of the things I talk and write about hit home for their own work environments.

    Please email me if you have any questions or decide to use any of the comic strips.

    Thank you.

    – mike vizdos

  2. siddharta Says:

    Hi Mike, thanks for dropping by. I’ve been to your site before, and I love the cartoons as well :)

  3. Ella Says:

    That’s an ininugoes way of thinking about it.

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