In praise of #PracticingAgilists and prevention of #PaperAgilists

I wonder if the time is right to introduce an Agile certification with a requirement for recurring Agile project work. (In whatever role is appropriate) All of the Agile certifications I have seen evaluate whether you understand the Agile concepts, but I have not seen a certification that requires Agile project work. Some of the books I have found really valuable recently are written with stories from the trenches that you can relate to and provide lessons learned that you can apply immediately. Two of the more recent ones that I highly recommend are:

Beautiful Teams

The Nimble Elephant

The other side of the coin

But I have also read my share of articles and books that are quite abstract and don’t provide much in the way of exactly how you implement the concepts that they are presenting. I’m sure you have seen these that propose some of the following:

  • Don’t estimate or budget at all
  • Don’t assign people to more than one project at a time
  • Don’t create a plan at all

I agree with the ideas behind these concepts, but these abstract concepts do not reflect reality for 90% of us in the trenches.

I have heard the term ‘Paper Architects’ to refer to architects that are quite removed from technology and have not experienced the real project give-and-take, collaboration, personal interactions and issues, negotiation and confrontation, and compromise for quite a while in a project setting.  The discussion is that these ‘Paper Architects’ have grown out of touch with the technology, possible solutions, and the clients during this time. I wonder if we need to propose a certification that requires real world project experience so we don’t have Paper Agilists?

The Details

This project experience that I speak of would be more that just Agile Coaching. Although Agile Coaching is important and has its place, I think the real value comes from team members that are part of an Agile project from inception through development and through multiple major releases. That is where the rubber really hits the road and significant work is required to take Agile concepts and customize them so that you satisfy all the project stakeholders and provide value to each and every one of them. Ideally these professionals would be on the project team from the proposal phase right through post implementation and Application Maintenance.

I hate to build on the old Scrum joke, but while Agile Coaches are interested in the projects, the team members are truly committed. And I don’t mean to imply that Agile Coaches are aloof and are not concerned about the outcome of the project. I believe they have the utmost integrity in how they are doing their job, but there is more of a commitment when you are an employee that will be staying in that environment long-term and personally having to live with the ramifications of the decisions that were made. 

I truly believe that professionals are somewhat limited in the value they bring clients if they are only writing books or articles or just being an Agile Coach rather than participating on Agile projects on a regular basis.  

I propose a sabbatical approach like we see in the universities. Usually professors take a year leave of absence to do research and write a book and then they return to their professorial duties. I think we need to do the same. Aside from the standards tests that would ensure you know the Agile and Lean concepts, I propose that 3 out of 5 years need to be spent on an Agile projects as a card-carrying team member. I chose the five-year period to provide flexibility to balance projects with coaching and book and article writing.

Who would you rather join your team for a critical project? Some one who has recent project experience or someone who hasn’t?


In fact, the word ‘Agile’ comes from the Latin ‘Agere’ which means ‘to do’.

Can you truly be Agile if you aren’t ‘doing’ anymore?