Agile is great. Scrum is OK. Know the difference.

Sean Dexter
8 min readNov 10, 2019
Michelangelo’s painting of god separating light from darkness.
“The soul who sins is the one who will die. A son will not bear the iniquity of the father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of the son. ” Ezekiel 18:20. Image: “Separation of Light from Darkness” by Michaelangelo/Wikimedia Commons

AAgile software creation is pretty great. If you don’t think so, it might be because you’ve been introduced to the concept in a confusing way. Or at least that’s what I’ve come to believe based on my day to day discussions with others in the software world.

The problem is that many explanations of the concept fail to distinguish between Agile and Agile-related frameworks (like LeSS, SAFe, Scrum, etc.) and practices (writing user stories, sprints, backlogs). Without a clear picture of the boundaries between these ideas, it’s easy to attribute the flaws of a specific practice to the entire concept of Agile.

The consultancies that are hired for most Agile trainings actually have a vested interest in perpetuating this confusion. When they can conflate their specific frameworks and teachings with the overall concept of Agile, they can lead organizations to depend even more on their costly services.

Some may claim Agile has become so conflated with other concepts om this way that it has lost its value, but I don’t think this is fair. If you can disambiguate the confusion (which I hope to help with), the core concept of Agile remains an extremely valuable tool for thinking about what differentiates highly effective teams.

An “Agile consultant” converses with a CTO. Image: “Juvenile Instructor” via Wikimedia Commons

In reality, the Agile Manifesto consists only of four values and 12 principles. It’s important to note that these values and principles didn’t emerge in a vacuum. They were an encapsulation of what seemed to be working well and a reaction against the bureaucratic, rigid, and hierarchical mindset that characterized Waterfall-style software development in most corporate environments. I won’t elaborate on the problems of Waterfall too much here. For now, just keep in mind that for every value and principle expressed as a part of Agile, Waterfall pretty much falls on the exact opposite end of the spectrum and is usually not effective as a result.

It’s easy to attribute the flaws of a specific practice to the entire concept of Agile.

Sean Dexter

Sr Product Designer @ Meta. Prev: HubSpot & Cigna. I write about UX, agile, & product. Not speaking for any employer/s.