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Which Agile Process Should You Choose?


There are many processes that will help you achieve Agility. How will you select one that is best for you?

Agile is not a process; it is a philosophy.  It's a philosophy that describes a comparative value system and a set of 12 principles designed to discover better ways of developing products.

There are many agile embracing processes or process frameworks.  Which will you choose to use?  This will depend upon many factors that are context dependent.  One shoe will not fit all feet - and all feet do not need shoes.

On a spectrum from 'prescriptive' to 'adaptive' where do various agile processes fall?  Henrik Kniberg did this analysis for us.  He bases his measurement on the number of 'rules' stated in the process descriptions. For example:  RUP 120 rules; XP 13 rules; Scrum 9 rules; Kanban 3 rules.
by Henrik Kniberg

This chart provides a high-level view of Agile frameworks on a scale of prescriptiveness to adaptiveness. How many rules do you have to follow to be able to say you are using a process? How many rules are necessary and sufficient for your organization's culture?  If this is an interesting question for you, then you will enjoy Michael Sahota's Agile Culture, Adoption, and Transformation Reading Guide.

As one moves to the right on this spectrum there is an increasing need for self-discipline. Just because you are at the right end, "Do Whatever" doesn't mean your group has the ability to effectively achieve your goals. Perhaps, you can improve the effectiveness you desire by moving toward the left.  In my experience, it requires a very mature organization to move toward the right on this spectrum.  Moving toward the left creates a rigid structure and can have severe consequences on team dynamics and motivation.

I've observed that many of the teams that say they are doing Kanban are only doing 1 or 2 of the 3 prescriptive rules. Few, in my limited experience, are actually doing the continuous improvement via scientific methods. I don't intend to disparage the process (if it could be called a process). I believe it is wonderfully simple and can work for a very mature organization, such as organizations that are already a learning organization. Most of the teams I see using Kanban don't even begin to have Senge's Personal Mastery concept (the first of Senge's 5 disciplines).  At this end of the spectrum, these disciplines are required.

I've also never see a team doing Scrum and delivering working, tested software frequently without doing many of the engineering processes defined by XP.

So, I guess my view is that the sweet spot is somewhere between 8 - 15 rules. With only very mature and disciplined teams being capable of removing some of these. Therefore, just like when the doctor tells you to take all of the antibiotic, regardless of how much better you feel after day four, you must finish the course of antibiotics. There is a need for you to follow all of the prescriptions of the process if you want to reap the benefit.

process spectrum

You may also wish to apply the Cockburn Scale as a rubric for which process you choose.  It was one of the first ah-ha moments I had in the agile world, thanks Alistair.


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