Form without Function — Acting without Effect

You have to be very strong now: A few user sto­ries and dai­ly standup meet­ings won’t make you agile. All right, now it’s out. There’s no point in cloning Spo­ti­fy. mitat­ing the form, rit­u­als, and prac­tices with­out under­stand­ing the essence of them and the log­ic behind them are inef­fec­tive car­go cult.

In the South Seas there is a car­go cult of peo­ple. Dur­ing the war they saw air­planes land with lots of good mate­ri­als, and they want the same thing to hap­pen now. So they’ve arranged to imi­tate things like run­ways, to put fires along the sides of the run­ways, to make a wood­en hut for a man to sit in, with two wood­en pieces on his head like head­phones and bars of bam­boo stick­ing out like anten­nas — he’s the con­troller — and they wait for the air­planes to land. They’re doing every­thing right. The form is per­fect. It looks exact­ly the way it looked before. But it does­n’t work. No air­planes land. So I call these things car­go cult sci­ence, because they fol­low all the appar­ent pre­cepts and forms of sci­en­tif­ic inves­ti­ga­tion, but they’re miss­ing some­thing essen­tial, because the planes don’t land.
Richard Feyn­man, 1974

Agile meth­ods and espe­cial­ly scrum have tremen­dous poten­tial for car­go cult. For the sim­plic­i­ty of agile prac­tices, on the one hand, because the agile man­i­festo was cre­at­ed as a coun­ter­move­ment to heavy­weight soft­ware devel­op­ment mod­els. On the oth­er hand, because of the prin­ci­ples that are dif­fi­cult for hier­ar­chi­cal tay­loris­tic orga­ni­za­tions to imple­ment and, in some cas­es, even unimaginable.

Self-orga­nized teams, that take full respon­si­bil­i­ty for their prod­uct and there­fore gain exten­sive deci­sion-mak­ing pow­er? We’d rather not be that agile. Teams that all work dif­fer­ent­ly and nobody cen­tral­ly dic­tates a com­mon work­ing method? Where would we go! Look­ing into the eye of uncer­tain­ty and accord­ing­ly pre­fer­ring to sail on sight instead of plan­ning large-scale pro­grams in detail for three years — mind you: for approval? Dif­fi­cult when the only career path leads through projects and pro­grams to line management.

Nev­er­the­less — or pre­cise­ly for this rea­son — the results of agile orga­ni­za­tions have a seduc­tive effect on tra­di­tion­al indus­tri­al com­pa­nies, espe­cial­ly when they have to com­pete with new and usu­al­ly more agile com­peti­tors due to new tech­nolo­gies with enor­mous dis­rup­tive poten­tial. Admit­ted­ly, they want to become as adapt­able and inno­v­a­tive as those. So no longer thick con­cepts, just user sto­ries. And quick­ly the work pack­ages in the large-scale pro­gram called epics. A lit­tle plan­ning pok­er to esti­mate and a dai­ly stand-up every day. A few more foos­ball tables and ready is the car­go cult: form with­out func­tion — act­ing with­out effect.

Agili­ty essen­tial­ly means adapt­abil­i­ty. The aim is to deliv­er some­thing use­ful at short inter­vals, to obtain feed­back on it and, based on this insight, to adapt the strat­e­gy and plan the next steps. Agili­ty means sail­ing in unknown waters as a team on sight, instead of con­fronting uncer­tain­ty with detailed plans and then clum­si­ly putting them into prac­tice in the typ­i­cal tay­loris­tic divi­sion of labor with many han­dovers. Research stud­ies in epic breadth to clar­i­fy the scope to the last cor­ner are not very agile, but rather tes­ti­fy to old think­ing. Of course, you can name the com­plete require­ments for the next three years user sto­ries and the work pack­ages of the asso­ci­at­ed large-scale pro­gram epics and plan them in detail, but this won’t become agile despite the foos­ball tables.

It is the per­vad­ing law of all things organ­ic and inor­gan­ic, of all things phys­i­cal and meta­phys­i­cal, of all things human and all things super­hu­man, of all true man­i­fes­ta­tions of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is rec­og­niz­able in its expres­sion, that form ever fol­lows func­tion. This is the law.
Louis Sul­li­van

Form fol­lows func­tion. Not vice ver­sa. Agili­ty is based on prin­ci­ples. The known prac­tices and meth­ods are only phe­nom­e­na of the prin­ci­ples and not the essence of agili­ty. The fact that Spo­ti­fy and oth­er agile orga­ni­za­tions have sim­i­lar prac­tices is due to the com­mon agile prin­ci­ples. How­ev­er, the prac­tices alone do not lead to agili­ty. Here too, as is so often the case, cor­re­la­tion must not be con­fused with causality.

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