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Agile Formulas

I was recently involved in a round of Lightning Talks and decided to take a different path where I discussed nine different Agile mathematical “formulas”.1

Some of these formulas came from the Spotify engineering culture videos that were created by Henrik Kniberg. If you haven’t seen the videos, I would strongly suggest checking them out.2

1) Agile > Scrum; Agile > SAFe; Agile > implementation
Agile is a mindset or philosophy. Scrum, LeSS, SAFe, XP, etc are frameworks or implementations of that mindset and they represent our current practices (continued in formula #2).

2) Principles > Practices
A principle is a fundamental truth or belief. A practice is what you actually do. In an ideal world your practices are guided by your principles. We expect practices to adapt and change where principles should not. Principles drive practices and not the other way around.

3) Trust > Control
This is the formula that most people struggle with and I have witnessed discomfort in people’s body language when this comes up. I believe that most this comes from generations of traditional management, where employees were considered a cog in the machine. In Agile, we need to empower self-organizing teams. The need to control and manage the team is the enemy of self-organization and quickly erodes trust.

4) Innovation > Predictability
Teams of motivated individuals give the proper environment, support, and trust3 can produce amazing and innovating solutions. They probably can’t give you an exact ETA on when that will be done. If you want something that is 100% predictable and repeatable, Agile may not be what you are looking for.

5) Chaos > Bureaucracy
Both chaos and bureaucracy and dark, nasty, dangerous places where you don’t want to be. Sometimes good things can emerge from chaos.

6) Simple <> Easy
Most people think that simple and easy are the same thing.  At a minimum, people use the words interchangeably but they are different from each other.

Many things that are easy, are not simple. A great example is catching or throwing a frisbee, which when you look closely has a tremendous amount of physics involved (rotation, torque, lift, glide, fluid dynamics, etc) but is relatively easy to do.

Most things that are simple, are not easy. Agile is relatively simple, but it is not easy to implement, mainly because it opposes our traditional beliefs and paradigms.

7) Cycle Time = WIP / Throughput
Let say that we can produce 10 units of work per day (throughput) and we are usually working on 20 items at a time (WIP). The average time it takes to produce one unit (cycle time) would be 2 days.

If we want to increase our speed, we need to either increase throughput or reduce WIP. Increasing throughput is going to require that we somehow improve our process. We should try to improve our process, but a substantial effort will probably be involved.

If we reduce the WIP, things get done faster. Period. Quit working on things that are not a priority or not producing value. This is especially true of those unimportant things you are working on just to keep people happy because it’s “in progress”.

8) Success = 1 / Complexity
In other words, success is inversely proportional to complexity. If you want to increase your odds of success, reduce your complexity. Most projects and products fail because we tried to create something complex instead of starting simple and iterating.

9) Being Agile = Doing Agile + Mindset
Doing Agile will show improvements but to unleash the true potential you need to do more than adding a few ceremonies, you need to change how you think. Blindly following practices without knowing why is often referred to as Cargo Cult Agile.


1 If you want to see the actual slides, they can be found on the presentations page.
2 The videos (part 1 and part 2) can be found in the Spotify labs.
3 Yes, this is a rephrasing of the fifth principle of the manifesto.

Published inPonderances

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