Let’s do a quick scientific experiment together. You are in an art gallery and a vase is sitting on a pedestal in the middle of the room. A visitor, fascinated by it, approaches to take a picture — unaware of a second vase right behind him.
That vase immediately falls and breaks into a hundred. (Just like the man’s heart as he thinks of its price.) Now how would you describe this artsy tragedy?
A Stanford professor carried this same study with both English and Spanish native speakers, revealing a shocking pattern. The English described the scene with agentive expressions, such as “the man broke it”. The Spanish disagreed and said something awkward to English ears: “the vase broke itself.”
But what’s shocking in that? Wel…
The Spanish couldn’t remember who broke the vase.
Another study revealed that Germans described a bridge as “elegant and fragile”, although the Spanish labelled it “strong and sturdy”. The secret is also in linguistics: while “die Brücke” is feminine, “el puente” is masculine — so their opinions weren’t based in reality itself but on grammatical gender.
I know this sounds Newspeak-sy at first, but Linguistic Relativity shows that how you label things inescapably bestows power upon it — and that brings about assumptions that distort reality. That’s how a singular object can be both “fragile” and “sturdy” at the same time, regardless of how illogical that is.
But does that have to do with Scrum, you may ask? Well, think of all those common Scrum anecdotes you’ve heard, like “sprints made our team miserable”. Remember agilists saying that “you must track velocity to make it work” and other recurring nonsense. What is common in all those issues?
An unreasonable concern with agility. Scrum teams will pursue sprints as if their lives depended on it. Inexperienced agilists will forget value in favour of burn-down charts, trying to rebuild the world every two weeks. Abusive managers will exploit workers since they are “not agile yet”.
It’s inevitable. Just like turning “ceremonies” into “events” lightens the atmosphere, mentioning “Agile” immediately hastens it. That’s why I say:
“AGILE” is one hell of a cursed name.
The Agile Manifesto has 68 words but “speed” isn’t one of those. I also dared to ctrl+f my Scrum Guide for terms such as “velocity”, “fast”, and “quick” but couldn’t find those.
Here’s what I found in seconds though: “working software is the primary measure of progress”. And yes, the Manifesto does mention a “preference to the shorter timescale”, but that is about avoiding extensive plans — not about whipping your developers. Also, here’s what isn’t a preference: “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software, built around motivated individuals.”
An agile team is not one that moves tasks from Sprint Backlog to Done quickly, but one that delivers value often. And to make sure no one falls into the trap of our plagued name, the Scrum Guide dares to make it clearer:
“The heart of Scrum is a Sprint (so) each Sprint has a goal of what is to be built (and) the resultant increment.”
So here we have one goal planned to fit within a Sprint. (So it must also be within the team’s output capacity, right?) Since meeting such goal “is our highest priority”, we can assume that velocity is absolutely irrelevant as long as we have a “working software” by the end of the Sprint.
This means Sprints are meant to deliver continuous value, not burn-down charts, so the velocity hysteria is flawed from birth. Fast teams are cultivated and earned, not reaped and plucked.
Just like a curse, this plight is inescapable although the accursed will strive to escape it. The Agile Oedipus will fall prey to the same curse he cast upon others, failing to provide the value he preaches his traditional competitors do not provide.
I won’t dare to re-christen our doomed name, but the fact is that “Agile” literally gives us a bad name. One that grows into vigilance and abuse — both in absolute contradiction with our values of Openness, Respect, and our pursuit of value. Here agility turns into indignity.
A name such as “agilist” ought to be reserved to people like Usain Bolt, not value-driven professionals. (Which are indeed agile, but only agile to provide value.) Whenever a Scrum Team doesn’t know for sure why they are sprinting for, go one unit backwards and contemplate it: they are NOT agile.
As a closure, I remind you that the Greek myths taught us a simple way to break a curse: facing it and acting upon it.
So if a backlog or a burn-chart come hammering at the back of your head, pause and think if it’s in the best interest of your customers and squad. You’ll often see you’re chasing vanity metrics, not valuable outcomes.
Remember the wise words of the Agile Manifesto: “individuals over processes”, “collaboration over contracts” — and value and respect over the velocity BS.