Product Marty Cagan

Principles over Process

Recently my friends at Crisp invited me to participate in a special virtual conference where a set of technology speakers, each with distinctly different points of view, would discuss how teams and companies can best deal with the challenges of complexity.

My views on formal process, and how Agile has been taken over by process people, and the problems with product owners, are at this point fairly well known, but despite that, and to their credit, the organizers wanted their audience (mainly Agile coaches) to hear from people outside of the traditional Agile evangelists.

Crisp has now made the video public, and if you are a coach – a product coach, an Agile coach, or a people manager that coaches engineers, designers or product managers – I’d like to encourage you to watch the recording.  It’s about an hour, but I think you’ll find it a good use of your time.

Fair warning that I didn’t sugarcoat any of this, and if you’re an Agile coach, especially if you make your living trying to implement SAFe, large sections of this talk will be more than a little uncomfortable.

But if you’re reading this article, my hope is that you are sincerely interested in helping the companies you work with improve, so you might be open to a frank discussion of the state of our industry.

I won’t try to repeat here the many points I make in the video.  But I will say that I intend to write a series of articles diving into the product first principles that I briefly describe in the video.

But more generally, as to the question of what went wrong with Agile, I think the most important thing is to realize that there are the Agile principles, as captured in the manifesto, and there are the many Agile processes created ostensibly around those principles.

My theory is that process people essentially took over Agile, and today most companies follow the processes, but aren’t even close to living the principles.

This phenomenon is not unique to Agile.  There is a long history in our industry of process people taking over otherwise good principles, and either applying them where they don’t make any sense, or being so dogmatic that the teams lose sight of what matters.

My sense is that that more people in our industry are starting recognizing this issue, and maybe we can get people back to what’s important – the principles – rather than the rituals.