In practice ‘agile’ means ‘we have no process in place and each team does whatever random thing the manager wants to try next’. Sometimes that is SAFE sometimes its SCRUM, usually it’s a combination of different things. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there are trade offs.
The first is standardization. If every team follows a different process it’s difficult to understand what is going on at a management level. Which teams are productive? Which teams are in downward spirals? If you don’t have a standard to judge against you can’t find out.
Secondly, away team work is much harder. Working with a team that uses the same development process, pipeline setup, programming language and frameworks is easy. On the other hand working in the code base for a team which uses a different language, framework, architecture, etc is very difficult. Not supporting away team work severely limits your ability to integrate internal software components.
Thirdly, Estimates are not possible in this kind of environment. Since the process changes constantly historical data becomes useless. In response to this most companies don’t even keep historical data. The main use for estimates is ensuring that ‘burn down’ charts follow the 45 degree angle managers love.
Subjective expert predictions are a valid form of estimating software tasks. But if you don’t have historical data to calibrate against estimates devolve into gaming the system.
When you change how estimates are made, when tickets are considered done and the sprint cadence every 3-6 months there is no way you can have cross company data on productivity. The lack of process empowers management to obfuscate the productivity of their teams. The pursuit of the best process gives technical organizations a great excuse as to why they have no idea if their processes have improved over the last two years or not.
In this type of environment all judgements have to be made based on subjective gut feelings and corporate politics. You don’t know which VP’s processes are better than the other because neither has any accountability. You don’t know which technical department is more efficient because neither the estimates or logged hours can be trusted.
‘We’re being agile’ has become the excuse to follow whatever process you want. Instead of ‘people over process’ it has become ‘no process’.