I created the following fun periodic table of agile adoption to explain some of the ranges of adoption, adaptation and blending that we see in the workplace.
On the left to right (X axis) we see varying ranges of agile purity to pragmatism. On the left we have the agile zealots and fundamentalists for whom everything must be done exactly by the book or it is just not agile and therefore wrong. On the right hand side we have the pragmatists who are happy to take what works for them and forget the rest.
On the vertical (Y axis) we have the degree to which people blend other techniques and practices into their work. Low on the scale people use a simple implementation of the theory they have adopted. High on the scale we see a complex blend of multiple practices; perhaps agile, with the Theory of Constraints (ToC), Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS), or their own in-house standards.
These two axis could have been illustrated as a 2x2 grid, but that would miss the long middle “sausage dog” distribution of “Followers” that seem to make up the majority of people using agile. Also shown are the fields of “Lean” and “Kanban”, but I do not divide them into an amplitude of blending with other methods(Y axis) because this table is about Agile usage (and the chart would no longer look like the periodic table:).
From left to right we have the Zealots with an almost religious belief and passion for agile. It is best not to suggest moving the time of the Stand Up Meeting to this crowd. I took my CSM training in 2003 from Ken Schwaber and back then I would put him in this camp as a “Ze1”. We need these evangelists to pioneer new methods; they send a pure rallying cry. Next we have the fundamentalists who can see reason, but it is a battle to ever move them. I was fortunate to work with Ron Jefferies on the Agile Alliance board and I’d peg Ron as a fundamentalist. Yet he has an extremely wide knowledge base, he reads, posts and comments on just about every forum I have followed. While he says “agile isn’t any damn thing” he certainly speaks about a lot of other damn things, in my mind I’d peg him as a “Fu6”. Then we have the Followers, the broadest range of agile adopters. Some in towards the right relax the rules, some towards the top blend in other approaches, but looking at their everyday work, we would label it agile.
The Adaptors and Transformers break and take from agile what they need to be successful in their environments. This might be OK if they know what they are doing, but many agile practices are there to compliment and balance others. Ruthless testing allows for courageous refactoring, frequent user conversations allows for light requirements. Remove one without understanding its counter balance and you can be headed for trouble. This is where I would place myself, blending agile and what else is needed for a project team to be successful within its environment of organizational and project characteristics. Jim Highsmith is pragmatic, maybe a “Te3”, Dennis Stevens brings a lot of Kanban and OPM3 knowledge to his work, putting him in my mind around “Te6”.
Then we have the Revolutionists , the people on the edge of Agile, pulling it further, sometimes pulling away from it entirely. I am excited by this group because I believe we need to continually evolve to survive. People like David Anderson who blend and extend agile with Kanban are good examples. However, David seems to be more in the Kanban camp these days, but they are pioneers, explorers. Go with them and you might get lost in the weeds for a while, but it is new territory and opportunity.
Which is Best?
Well, just like the original periodic table, there is no best element. Some are good for some things, articulate Zealots and Fundamentalists for evangelizing, Followers for doing and coaching, Adaptors and Transformers for complex implementations, and Revolutionists to move us forward and challenge the status quo.
Use of the Model
I do not take this model too seriously; it was created for fun to explain some of the camps we see in our industry. The labelling of individuals is based on my experience of them, and people always turn out to be more complex and also evolving in their thoughts and practices. Where the model may be useful is as a conversation starter, or in summarizing a team or person’s general standing on agile principles. Feel free to use it if it is of use to you.