This blog post started with a tweet.

Truthfully though, it started a long time before the tweet.

If you've been anywhere near the Internet lately, you've likely seen some of this going around:

"Many product owners are just project managers who took on the role, and have no clue about what makes a product successful."

"AGILE PROJECT MANAGER?! I would never apply to be a job titled Agile Project Manager."

"He's not a scrum master. He's just a glorified project manager." 

And, from my own mouth, years and much shame ago, "Who cares about mapping your BRD (Business Requirements Document) to user stories? The whole exercise is useless."

All of the above are manifestations of one part of the "My Agile is Better Than Your Agile" syndrome. Frankly, the whole thing caused me, at one point, to want to forego the whole "agile" label when referring to my work.

The community I joined because of the promises depicted in the image below had started to feel elitist and exclusive. 

This is not new to us humans. Our brains know that it's all about survival of the fittest.

But now that we're doing creative work instead of surviving out in the wild, Fittest = Being Right (and, by extension, proving that everyone else is Wrong. Or at least not as Right as we are.)

For the rest of the 'world of work', I don't struggle with this issue as much.

But for a community that created its values based on a meditation that went beyond survival of the fittest to abundance, servant leadership, and "Individuals and Interactions", I struggle.

We state "People over Process", then turn around and put people in boxes because they have the wrong letters following their name, or because they use the word "hybrid". 

To my surprise, an interesting debate ensued online about the causes of this phenomenon. Then, George Dinwiddie, someone whose views and thoughtfulness I respect very much, asked "WHY?"

  • Some stated that our current state was caused by the lack of value managers and project managers have traditionally brought to the table.
    I call BS on that.
    I have seen traditional project and program managers working in full-fledged waterfall environments that have brought about more influence, innovation, and value than the executives they reported to. 
  • Others stated that the existence of project managers is a symptom of dysfunction at the leadership and strategic level, where the project manager's role is really just "fixer"
    My response: I doubt that people who think this way have experienced quality project management in a functioning, high-performing organization. 

The conversation was enlightening, in that I was able to share some of my frustration and hear from others that they also felt the same way. 

Ultimately, however, we still don't have an answer for WHY. 

Lately, I've been immersed in learning how to be a good coach, and serving the needs and goals of the people I am helping. (Thank you, Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd for your work and online resources, and Kevin Callahan for pointing me in their direction.)

By going through this process, I have been learning the value of asking questions and assuming a humble yet knowledgeable coache's stance, vs. the stance of an "expert" with all the answers. 

I have not given up on the word "agile" or "agility" yet, because I truly believe in agile's transformative power, especially when rooted in the original set of values and principles.

However, if agility is all about being incremental and iterative, let us open up to the possibility of incremental, iterative change. Let us give people a chance to discover their version of agility, without imposing ours on them and then pointing fingers if they decide it isn't for them. 

Let us mature to the point where we have the tools and compassion to help people improve the way they work, and ultimately, their lives, but not feel righteous in our following of a certain path. 

For such is the DNA of dogma, and don't we all know what happens when we let dogma have the upper hand.

(Thank you, George Dinwiddie and Mike Sutton, for encouraging me to write this post! And thank you to everyone else who interacted with it on Twitter. I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.)