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Agile Training Is a Waste of Money

I have several trusted colleagues and associates who are Agile and Scrum trainers, and I know they know what they are doing and offer quality services. This post is a reaction to Anthony Mersino’s post, Yes, You Really Do Need to Invest in Agile & Scrum Training — Here’s Why. So then why am I undermining this position? Firstly, I am a contrarian. Secondly, I am a realist. I’ve been told that I’m an optimistic realist, but I’m not so sure such an animal exists. In any case, I’ll lay out my rationale on why Agile training is a waste of money and time, which is, of course, money.

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Organisations with existing Agile structures and procedures

I say this tongue in cheek because in the dozens of companies I have directly encountered and the dozens more I have second-hand knowledge of, none are doing anything more than AINO, Agile in Name Only, or what I call homoeopathic Agile. These are organisations that adopt the nomenclature and tools of Agile, but that’s where it ends. There is no agility in the system. A rose by any other name… Waterfall is waterfall whether you label it that or not. If it quacks like a duck. You know the drill. You may wish to review some of my positions that underpin this case.

Being trained in this environment will be frustrating at least because you’ll be exposed to the potential of Agile, but you’ll quickly realise that it will always remain out of reach. Some less scrupulous trainers and coaches may tell you that it doesn’t matter because it’s a journey not a destination, but that’s not right. Whilst it is a journey, the destination is not uncharted. We already know what ‘good’ looks like.

Eventually, you will just do what your org wants you to do. The org will always trump Agile principles. In most cases, your org has probably already violated all of the principles. If this is the case, then any training is a waste of time and money. Just train to your process.

Organisations without existing Agile structures

These days, it’s probably pretty unusual for a company to not have some semblance of Agile—at least in name, but I remember the days when companies were just trying to catch up and join the Agile club. I was working with an insurance company circa 2011 – 2012 and they sent a ton of their employees to Agile training. I mention this in another post. They all came back and endorsed each other as Agile-competent. They weren’t then, and they still aren’t. Dunning-Kruger 101. As one of my favourite management quotes goes:

A bad system will beat a good person every time.

W Edwards Deming

And these weren’t even good people. Just kidding. The system was handcuffing them. It would not let them be Agile and no amount of training would fix this. For this structural change to happen, executive leadership would have to go, but it would need to be more akin to Mao’s re-education camps. Management has a lot of old school baggage to unload and unlearn. This is not going to happen in a 2-week boot camp. Of course. if you feel you could do otherwise, have at it.

Nemo: Swimming against the tide

My point is that you are swimming against the tide, and you are no salmon. Save your shekels.

Null Sets and Non-existent Cases

I have worked in a real Agile environment, XP programming in a scrum environment at a startup. They didn’t have all of the overhead that comes with large enterprises. I’ve shared this experience here before.

I am pretty sure that unless you are in an early startup where you can use Agile in a Lean Startup environment, you won’t be getting close to Agile. Theoretically, you might get to a place where you can attempt Lean Enterprise, but I’m not sure how Agile you’ll actually encounter or how lean it will be despite aspirations.

In the end, just don’t do it. What do you have to gain?

2 thoughts on “Agile Training Is a Waste of Money

  1. Bry, as always you don’t pull any punches.

    I guess my hope in writing the blog is to avoid some of that AINO you mention. My thinking was, if only managers and leaders can learn what agile really means, perhaps they won’t do things that undermine agility or run counter to what would help teams apply agile ways of working.

    But I have to agree with your assessment that what most organizations do today is far from agile. And they either are unwilling to admit it or they simply don’t care – they still call themselves agile.

    Thanks for the shoutout even if you are pointing out the flaws in my thinking!


    1. I love your output, Anthony. Please take no offence. I am only so vocal because I truly wish enterprises would be agile—at least the ones I work for and engage with. When I am in an organisation, I am usually too far down the food chain, so I have no voice. When I am consulting, I just get excuses and pleas of ‘we’re trying’. But this is like me showing up to quarterback the Superbowl with a promise to try.

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