19 Mar 2015

Agile is liberal, SAFe is conservative and their marriage will be rocky

Do we need a Big-Agile framework? This was the topic of a recent discussion on a LinkedIn group. Scrum, for example, may be viewed as a small-Agile framework. It suggests (prescribes?) rituals, practices, metrics and objectives for a development team. Many teams have adopted Scrum and realized its benefits. Then again, it is common to find people who wield Scrum certifications without a real understanding of software development. They do more damage than good on teams.

So can we extrapolate this to say that frameworks aren’t good or bad—it’s how you use them? Not so quickly. I’ve argued before that nothing is value-neutral. Later, Steve Yegge wrote an interesting essay arguing that different software methodologies espouse different value systems. “Embrace Change” is a liberal value. “Reduce uncertainty” is conservative.

A big-Agile framework like SAFe™ is conservative (hence “safe”). It may have won over conservative IT governance people but it will struggle to make IT truly responsive because it is incompatible with liberal Agile values. An alternative big-Agile approach I propose in my upcoming book is liberal and less prescriptive than a framework.

Am I implying that liberal is good and conservative is bad? No. It is a question of what is fit for the times. Change in technology and business is the order of the day. Embrace change or be safe and sorry.