Let Sleeping Dogs Lie


Recently a vice president of engineering asked for a recommendation for an agile tool. We will call her Sally.  We just finished reading Ron Jeffries’ latest post on bad agile, titled “Developers Should Abandon Agile”.  Sally has a small team of 10 engineers hoping to grow to 20 in a couple of years. Sally was interested in managing and detailed insight into workflow, epic/story/task, people allocation, Slack integration and many other micro managing features. Our reply was that you do not need a tool for such a small group.  We suggested that Sally remember the first principle of agile is “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Our advice to Sally was to take the money and effort that she would put into a tool and improve the skills of her team. 

Sally replied she was a big fan of the Agile Manifesto. She had been with the company and the team four months and have focused on improving the team skills. However, she felt it was important to be able to track status, deployments for a distributed team across time zones.  She felt a simple tool would help her.  That is the key, it would help her. It would not help the team. In fact it will put a burden on the team and be harmful to the team. It would make the team less productive.  The whole idea of self-managed teams is they are self-managed, not micro managed.  The whole idea of servant leadership is for Sally to serve the team.  The team produces working quality software. Sally’s job is to make them better. 

So we suggested not to focus on agile tools, and focused on the software development, delivery, and landscape. We suggest you focus on the emotional health of the team. As far back as the 1970s, Prof. Dr. Manny Lehman proposed his Law of Increasing complexity, stating, “As an evolving program is continually changed, its complexity, reflecting deteriorating structure, increases unless work is done to maintain or reduce it.  Sally your main job is to reduce complexity in the development process, not increase it. These type agile tools increase complexity. This is what is the heart of bad agile. 

Sorry Sally in the long run a tool will not help you or your team.  Your best tool is no tool. An agile tool is like an opioid, it will make you feel comfortable while using it, but you will get little value from it.  It will decrease interaction and make you dependent on it.  Improving your team’s technical and emotional intelligence is not a four month process. It takes years and is a constant life-long learning process.  The best investment you can make is investing your time and resources in improving your team ability to manage themselves. Implementing an agile management tool is the first step on the road to bad agile. 

By James Johnson and Hans Mulder

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Subject Matter

Tools & Infrastructure

About the Author:


Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is chairman of The Standish Group. He has been professionally involved in the computer industry for over 40 years and has a long list of published books, papers, articles and speeches. He has a combination of technical, marketing, and research achievements focused on mission-critical applications and technology. He is best known for his research on project performance and early recognizing technology trends. Jim is a pioneer of modern research techniques and continues to advance in the research industry through case-based analytical technology.

Hans Mulder

Prof.dr.ing. Hans Mulder MSc BA is Standish European research director and professor at the Antwerp Management School. As the founder of his own company, Venture Informatisering Adviesgroep, he is on the management and executive boards of various IT companies. He is regularly engaged as an IT expert when conflicts between companies need to be resolved in or out of court.

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