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Is Agile/Lean as good as it gets?

I was recently catching up on episodes of The Java Posse, and came to the one that features an Open Spaces topic I convened at last year’s Java Posse Roundup, Should We Shoot Agile in the Head? It was a vibrant conversation with plenty of input from experienced people. At the 49:50 in the recording, D. J. Hagberg posed an excellent question:

“Is Agile[/Lean] as good as it gets?”

I added Lean, since the question really applies to both, their overlap being so great.

The short answer is no.

What D. J. is asking in the context of that conversation is something I wish more Lean and Agile practitioners were asking themselves. Is the full-fledged adoption of a given process as canonically defined by some authority the goal? If so, to what end? What does that buy us? Is that a guarantee of success?

I will tell you what is “as good as it gets”.

Working as part of a group of talented, disciplined, and motivated people to build excellent products in an environment where trust and collaboration cross the boundaries of functional roles with just enough structure to hold things together is as good as it gets.

Agile/Lean processes, tools, and practices can greatly facilitate those things, but they will not create it. At the end of the day, yes, you are in fact going to have to get better at working with others. If you are applying anything Agile or Lean in your teams, ensure that it is with the aim of fostering trust and collaboration, executing tactically with strategic vision in mind. And yes, that is not easy; excellence has never been easy.