How to Tell If a Company Is Actually Agile

Believe it or not, there are still waterfall companies in the year 2017. The problem is that just about every company claims to be agile and follow scrum, and may have even implemented certain elements of it. Here are three questions you can ask to quickly expose a faux-agile company:

1 – Is your software working and potentially shippable at the end of each sprint?

You’re looking for a “yes” here. Any other answer signifies that the company has simply taken waterfall and split it up into iterations. This practice ruins the inspect/adapt cycle between the scrum team and the stakeholders. Risk ends up increasing over time, rather than decreasing. The end result is often an expensive, catastrophic failure, and you’ll be left to deal with the failure if you find yourself working here.

2 – Do managers attend your retrospectives?

This single question can tell you a lot about the health of scrum at the company. The answer you’re looking for is “no”. Retros are vital to the “inspect and adapt” approach of agile, and need to be done in a setting with no outside pressure on the scrum team. Answers like the following indicate that scrum is not being followed: “yes, because our manager is also the scrum master” (umm, bad!), or “what’s a retrospective?” (very bad!), or “yes, we’re very collaborative and inclusive here” (that’s good, but channel that collaboration and inclusion in the right way)

3 – How many project managers do you have on your Scrum team(s)?

Any answer greater than zero is a strong indicator that the company is stuck on waterfall. First, project managers don’t have any role on a scrum team – a true scrum team is composed of a product owner, developers, and a scrum master. Second, project management conflicts with the idea of autonomous, self-organizing teams, and puts a focus on speculation and prediction rather than adaptation and empirical analysis.