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Part III: The unexpected enemy - an Agile Coach introducing "Somegile"

Last post 07:31 am August 10, 2016 by Marc Smeets
8 replies
05:22 pm August 6, 2016

[This is a follow up to and Thanks Alan (, for the hint. I take full responsibility for that Somegile term.]

Push comes to shove. That's the way it is, isn't it? What can go wrong will go wrong. What under any circumstances can't go wrong will of course go wrong, too. Especially, if you're dealing with people crying for trouble as loud as they possibly can.

If you noticed part I and II of this series, you know what's been going on until now.

Scrum was actually expected to help in a magic way as no changes whatsoever were made at client's side. The company stayed the same: product, program and project managers acted as before. "Scrum by name only" is surely nothing new, but people actually insisted they're doing Scrum. I even went as far as citing the Scrum Guide word by word to proof I'm serious about it and a Sprint Backlog is a Scrum Artefact and none of my pipe dreams, to no avail.

People finally realized the fairy tale turned horror story, Scrum being "implemented" (they really call it like that) a year ago, things are not what they're supposed to be. After being unhappy with progress using old school waterfall, Scrum was supposed to be the silver bullet. One could come to the conclusion that if waterfall doesn't work properly and Scrum too, while other people present great success stories, maybe something's wrong with one's own approach. Well, one could...

At least, people finally came to the conclusion they might need some help. But as the fairy tale already turned horror story, they of course didn't listen to a Scrum Master (remember: they saw no necessity to have a Scrum Master on this project) who's been pushing for improvement and full implementation of Scrum all the time. Instead, they turned to yet another Agile Coach who was hired as a kind of standby consultant, appearing for a few hours on demand. Obviously, people have given up on waterfall, there's no way back.

So that's no bad idea - in general. An Agile Coach should be expected to analyse the situation, recognize the missing / unimplemented Scrum components and help fix that uncomfortable and unproductive state of affairs.

Well, not this one!

This fantastic Agile Coach actually offered this conclusion: "It is impossible to implement Scrum here.". Can you imagine this, dear Scrum people? "Impossible." Period. No Scrum or whatever reasoning. Though the company got permanent Product Owners, Scrum Masters and even Agile Coaches they just don't listen to. Or there actually is a bad witch who holds them in captivity.

Seriously, now. A professional Agile Coach, doing nothing else, actually says it is impossible to have a Scrum team consisting of a Product Owner (check), a self-organizing Development Team (check) and a Scrum Master (check). A Product Backlog (though a crappy one due to the unfit Product Owner) exists, too.

He then went on to tell my dear client to use Agile instead of Scrum. In case you think you might need glasses: no, you're fine, "Agile instead of Scrum" is what the Agile Coach said. I already had my ears checked as I doubted my hearing.

So here's what happened next: Scrum was officially given up, Sprints including Sprint Planning (it never was one, but they use the term), Review and Retrospective (both just implemented recently) stayed. Wow. If you dear readers think it hurts: yes, it actually does. The great German philosopher Friedrich Schiller once wrote "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain". The original German is much more soigné, but that's of course due to translation.

They're officially "agile" now, though there's no definition what that actually means in this case. This of course allows the Agile Coach consultant to say and recommend whatever he wants to without any analysis. How can something agile be wrong, given there are no rules and guidelines to follow now with this company? What do you care about a definition of done, just say "agile" and you're fine.

This is of course all gonna end in tears as this Somegile will be worse than 50% Scrum after the poor results they got from waterfall.

So if anybody here thinks he's greater than Schiller's gods and got a cure for stupidity (maybe in bottles or as pills), I'll be happy to read your recommendations. But please keep in mind people won't listen to reason. Maybe something clownish might help, I don't know.

I still won't give up on Scrum though I'm still not waving any magic wand. Have a nice day & great projects,

Marc Smeets

08:11 am August 7, 2016

Thanks Marc Smeets, your good explanation. I understand the term "Somegile"
hope to read your contribution.

06:23 pm August 8, 2016

Thank you very much! It's an honour to receive your first post, Lisa.
We're gonna see if people adopt Somegile, aren't we?

07:45 am August 9, 2016

Hi Marc
Your story sounds familiar to me and as an (very active) Agile Coach it also hurts to read that some coaches are doing what you describe but on the other hand, I’ve been so many times in that situation where the client is just waiting Scrum to solve all the problems in the company without any efforts. I think this is clearly up to the Agile Coach to explain that the Scrum framework needs, to be efficient, to have motivated individuals that are ready to collaborate and being committed to the product. When your start the migration to Scrum it shows all inconsistencies, all problems, all deficiencies in the company (not only the Scrum team) and everybody must work hard to solve them, Agile Coach first.

Most of the time, this is when those problems are very visible that the company/client is likely going to go for your “Somegile”, certainly because Scrum has been presented as the solution to anything but the truth is much more difficult to handle.

Management strategy, personal job protection, misunderstanding, stubborn people are just a snapshot of what an Agile Coach is going to fight with.

Mastering the Scrum theory is not enough to be a good coach, you must, of course, be assertive, positive, inventive but also strong and always accept that people hate change, people hate to be out of their comfort zone.

Having some fake Scrum events organized in a so called time-box is of course easy for some people as it is “visibly” Agile but allows to hide the real problems and when a project fails, this is also easy to accuse “Scrum” of being the root cause of the failure.

Truth is there’s one major reason of a project failure: human

I like the “Somegile” word, I personally was calling this hybrid way of handling project the “iterative waterfall”, the idea is the same.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink says the proverb but as an Agile Coach I will use all my energy to convince him to do so.

I just have one advice: continue fighting, Scrum has strong pillars and very good human values.

Good luck with your projects

01:56 pm August 9, 2016

That certainly mirrors my experience with an "Agile Coach" in a previous organization. One of his favorite phrases was something along the lines of, "Don't just do Agile, be Agile" when he made unfounded directives or the business suddenly changed course drastically and expected development work to continue unaffected.

It does seem to be impossible to implement the Scrum framework or agile software philosophy within some organizations. Without the proper culture and support, attempts can result in deteriorated conditions. If open-ended questions such as "Can we improve XYZ?" are constantly met with quick "No" answers, and discussions are not permitted or repeatedly end with "Because I said so." . . . what is to be done?

I've always enjoyed phrases such as ScrumBut and ScrumWaterFail . . . now I can add Somegile. Thanks!

05:10 pm August 9, 2016

Thank you very much for participating, guys!

@ Alexandre: I know there are great Agile Coaches out there who help clients and support poor Scrum Masters. We unfortunately got this one who just adds insult to injury. Scrum and Agile will be blamed when this finally crashes.

@ Alan: You're obviously a "coach" victim, too. I like "ScrumWaterFail", I didn't know it before.

Have a nice day,


05:34 pm August 9, 2016


I hate to say this but it is very common these days because business has retaken what Scrum and Agile was created for, to put things back in control with those who may know better.

Sometimes problems are bigger than you and you might be able to find a small air pocket to survive in and make small changes to prove value and progress things forward or sometimes if you have the luxury and the timing is good parachute out before your the blame for things failing and that sticks to you. Sometimes the headaches you have are not meant for you to own.

Good luck!

05:35 pm August 9, 2016

Scrum contains many solid practices, but rarely solves anything alone. What Scrum is really good at though, is to make everything visible.

It is not a panacea that will make everything better. It is actually a lot like the red pill in The Matrix. It will show things for what they really are. However, if the company then decides it is more prudent to sweep such items under the rug, that is unfortunately their decision.

I do see a separate distinction between Scrum and Agile though. I view Agile as a mindset, and not to support any re-labeling of existing practices.

One of my favorite quotes about Agile is from Christian Toivola from "The Other Side of Agile":

Being Agile is truly nothing more than being nimble and adapting to change, and above all: to never stop questioning if you can do better.

This can be done outside of Scrum, but if it isn't being done and supported, then it simply isn't Agile.

07:31 am August 10, 2016

Thanks, Mark! I really expect this to become a nasty 'Game of Blames' without too many small air pockets, no Khaleesi in sight...

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