Agile’s perspective on failure

In the fall of 2011 I did some research regarding agile and failure for a presentation at Much Ado About Agile 2011 in Vancouver. The research was focused by a blog post by Philippe Kruchten describing some of the agile elephants. He listed “commercial interests censoring failure” and “using Elitism as a defense (against failure)” as two of the elephants. I consulted my brother-in-law Dr. Jason Ediger who is a psychologist to learn a bit more about the psychology of failure. After a brief explanation of what agile is, he responded with this:

“The assumption of failure is built into the agile process. The traditional method is built on the presupposition that we can plan failure out of the process. We don’t have to test for it because we’ve taken everything into account. Agile assumes that humans are going to fail. By it’s very nature, agile can’t ignore (or censure) failure. If the accusation is that agile suppresses failures, then by definition – that is not agile. If agile is done properly then it can’t* fail because it tests for failure all along. If you suppress failure, you guarantee it. Agile has a different perspective on failure. It doesn’t see failures as catastrophic, but as expected. That difference in perspective allows us to celebrate failure rather than suppress it.”

Pretty interesting comment don’t you think?

Agile tests for failure all along in order to succeed. We aren’t hoping for, or even planning on failure, but we do test for it regularly by delivering frequently, having daily stand-ups, keeping project status visible, etc. We do all this so that we can discover and react to our failures quickly in order to succeed.

Re-posted from

About WinnipegAgilist

Steve Rogalsky - An agilist and team member at Protegra with a passion for agile and lean principles and practices. Green bar addict, agile player/coach, teacher, dad, husband. Email: steve.rogalsky at protegra dot com


2 thoughts on “Agile’s perspective on failure

  1. The failures we were speaking about were not of the agile teams, doing agile projects in an agile ways, but of the agile consultants, gurus, trainers, etc… themselves.

    Posted by Philippe Kruchten | February 23, 2012, 4:46 pm
    • Thanks Philippe – that is what I understood. I guess if I can explain myself a little better, the censuring of the failures of those consultants, gurus, trainers, etc, is ‘un-agile’. If we take an agile perspective on those failures then we can use the failures to help improve agile, to improve adoption, to improve the results of those consultants, gurus, trainers, etc.

      Posted by WinnipegAgilist | February 23, 2012, 7:19 pm

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