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How to Avoid Dark Agile

  • Publish Date: Posted over 4 years ago
  • Author: Gervais Johnson

How to Avoid Dark Agile

“Agile is Dead” 12, “Dark Scrum” 11, “Scaling Agile Does Not Work” 13, “If Agile is So Good, Why are our Products so bad” 14, “Agile Hangover and Antifragile Organizations” 15, “While some think Agile is dying, others simply believe its evolving” 16, and "Rise of Zombie Scrum” 17 are just a few recent articles with discussions by Agile thought leaders and corporate executives that lead some to think Agile is dark and a sinister aberration. 

How to Avoid Dark Agile

Many of our Agile implementation experiences have led to Dark Agile. Dark Agile is the idea that Agile is the problem. Dark Agile is the antithesis of the Agile Values and Principles resulting in the inability to align the Agile Ecosystem. Based on multiple research and surveys over the last eight years, this is the root cause of most Agile failures.3,4,5,11 Dark Agile embraces non-Agile thinking and anti-patterns, and can throw us into chaos or disorder. 8,10

Over the last 16 years, especially the last five years, Agile has matured and remains in high demand. 5,6 Structured or “waterfall” approaches of old are not relevant today and are replaced by Agile, mainly due to the constant need to sense, respond, and adapt.8,9 Agile is pervasive and changing our organizations and individual interactions as well as our social fabric. 2,5,6,7,9 Technology and social advances create a symbiotic relationship with Agile, allowing us to deliver faster and sustain customer delight in the digital and interconnected world. 

Agile today consists of:  

  1. An open mindset,

  2. An empowering and safe organization culture,

  3. A pragmatic set of practices and tools,

  4. And a visionary relationship between internal and external environments.  

Collectively, these form an open and coherent ecosystem and involve four quadrants:

  1. The Agile Humanity

  2. The Agile Practices and Tools

  3. The Agile Organization and Culture

  4. The Agile Environment

Agile Ecosystem 1

The Agile Ecosystem needs recurring alignment and consistent synchronization. The Agile Ecosystem is a human-based model that needs ethnographic focus to succeed and evolve. 

Since 2001, Agile has been successfully implemented thousands of times with significant positive business results. 3,4,5,6 It’s had some failures, too, but the root cause is not Agile, but misalignment with one or more of the Agile Ecosystem quadrants.

Dark Agile is like the Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the universe, which makes up 96 percent of the universe, which inextricably coexists with Matter and Energy to create and maintain our universe, thusly our existence. Like Dark Matter and Matter, Dark Agile does not have a pleasant interaction with Agile, but may be necessary to evolve, like our Universe. One way to appreciate this metaphor is to think of Dark Agile as a natural part of the journey path to reach your true Agile.

Agile is more mature and in hyper-demand. For new ideas, there is a common maturity progression. Most think Agile is in the “late majority” 9 or “trough of disillusionment” 6 phases, where there is: a plethora of practices and tools, self-identified experts, expert infighting, cottage certification and validation industries, and increased usage complexity. We are left with an ever-complex task to determine the right fit for our needs.

Stay tuned for a more in-depth white paper coming later this month to explain the anti-patterns and solutions to Dark Agile. 

Where are you on the Agile evolutionary journey? If you want to talk more about how to balance the Agile Ecosystem and leverage our experience for your Agile journey, please contact us.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, join our Gateway to Agile community. View the full topic roadmap for the series here.


  1. Agile Coaching InstituteIntegral Agile

  2. Agile Innovation movements identified in Scrum Inc, Innovation Labs, Future Labs, Wells Fargo Innovation Center, and many more

  3. Scrum Alliance – 2016 State of Agile

  4. VersionOne – 2016 Agile Survey

  5. Harvard Business Review –  Embracing Agile, Jeff Sutherland 

  6. Gartner Group: 

  7. Forbes and Forrester – 

  8. Cognitive Edge and Sense-Maker

  9. Crossing the ChasmGeoffrey Moore

  10. Management 3.0 and Happiness

  11. Dark Scrum

  12. Agile is Dead

  13. Scaling Agile Does Not Work by Jez Humble

  14. Frankenbuilds - If Agile is So Good, Why are our Products So Bad by Gabrielli Benefield

  15. Agile Hangover and Antifragile Organizations by Russ Miles

  16. Is Agile on the way out by Justine Brown CIO Dive

  17. Rise of Zombie Scrum by Christiaan Verwijis and Johannes Schartau