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Yellow Agile Submarines - Discovering the Depths of Process Overload in the Agile Community

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Reflecting on Agile's Current State

Recently, I read a LinkedIn post by Maarten Dalmijn that caught my eye and got me thinking. The post challenged the Agile community's rising infatuation with processes and jargon, introducing the notion of "Agile Release Trams" as an ironic nod to Agile Release Trains. Dalmijn's post highlights a real issue for smaller organisations struggling with complicated Agile frameworks. It's a wake-up call for our community, spotlighting the dilemma that demands a more in-depth exploration.

His post, interestingly enough, signed off with a teaser: "Up next: Yellow Agile Submarines." This clever phrase encapsulates the growing problem in our Agile community - a proliferation of jargon and confusing processes often employed without adequate understanding. It is this very issue that I seek to delve deeper into as we examine the complexities of what I'm borrowing from him - "Yellow Agile Submarines”.

Agile's Challenge: Jargon Overload

As Agile practitioners, we face a proliferating issue: an overflow of jargon, buzzwords and complex frameworks, often implemented without understanding. This dilemma, aptly termed "Yellow Agile Submarines," risks capsizing our Agile initiatives. It's troubling how the core simplicity of Agile gets lost under a sea of complex jargon.

The Siren Call of Buzzwords

Buzzwords are glamorous; they're modern, attractive, and promise innovation. Take SAFe’s Agile Release Train, for instance. It’s well-crafted but not a one-size-fits-all solution. The result? Companies push square pegs into round holes, leading to inefficiencies and jeopardising the integrity of Agile projects. The reckless infusion of these frameworks into existing systems compromises the efficacy and dilutes the true essence of Agile practices.

Agile's True Essence: Adaptable Focus

Agility is about nimble adaptability to evolving situations. Deploying frameworks or buzzwords without customising them to fit your organisation’s needs is like setting sail without a map. As seasoned Agile professionals, our core task is assessing these frameworks for compatibility and customising them for the best results. It's crucial to remember that Agile practices are instruments to achieve objectives, not the objectives themselves.

Critical Questions for Agile Implementation

We need to ask: Do heavy jargon approaches really improve over our existing methods? Can it be adapted to our teams' sizes and skills? Do they align with our digital transformation strategies? These aren't just theoretical questions; they are vital guardrails that ensure our Agile implementations are meaningful and effective. The endgame cultivates constructive dialogue around these queries, enabling robust and streamlined Agile operations.

Metrics Matter in Agile

Agile isn’t merely about gut feeling; it's about measurable progress. Key Performance Indicators, in line with Agile values, are crucial. Metrics like sprint burndowns and lead times help us avoid the allure of confusing jargon, translate data into effective strategies, and enhance our Agile journey. Being proficient in interpreting these metrics can be a catalyst in converting insights into impactful action plans and refining your Agile journey.

Avoiding the 'Yellow Agile Submarine' Trap

Avoiding these pitfalls calls for comprehensive oversight. Routine Agile practices like backlog grooming and retrospectives aren’t mere formalities but indispensable tools for alignment. Open communication is key. As leaders, we must ensure everyone is on the same page ready to adjust strategies as needed. Regular strategy reviews keep us on track moving towards our business objectives.

Leadership: Steering the Agile Ship

Agile leadership is dynamic, constantly adapting to new challenges. Sharing insights and experiences isn’t just beneficial - it’s crucial. Leaders must balance traditional leadership qualities with Agile-specific knowledge, guiding their teams through the Agile ecosystem. Effective Agile leadership is about being a beacon of change, promoting adaptability, and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

The Human Heart of Agile

Amidst the buzzwords, it's essential to remember that Agile is fundamentally about people. Agile isn't a rulebook; It's a mindset, not a set of rules, and should infuse every part of an organisation. Effective communication is critical to the success of any Agile strategy. As leaders, instilling Agile values is not a box to check but a continuous endeavour. Never underestimate the compelling power of collective intelligence.

Beyond the Buzzwords: True Agility

The overarching goal is to embed Agile thinking into the very DNA of your organisational culture. Embedding Agile thinking means focusing on real business needs rather than getting lost in a maze of jargon. The spotlight should be on constant improvement, transforming it from a periodic initiative into an organisational ethos.


Navigating digital transformation can be tricky, especially with the plethora of Agile terminologies out there. However, effective Agile leadership goes beyond these complexities, ensuring that Agile strategies align with organisational goals. You ensure that your Agile ventures remain focused by scrutinising how novel ways of working dovetail with your organisational goals. Agile leadership is an evolving journey, continuously adapting to new challenges and focusing on what truly matters for lasting success.

About the Author

Giles Lindsay is a technology executive, business agility coach, and CEO of Agile Delta Consulting Limited. Giles has a track record in driving digital transformation and technological leadership. He has adeptly scaled high-performing delivery teams across various industries, from nimble startups to leading enterprises. His roles, from CTO or CIO to visionary change agent, have always centred on defining overarching technology strategies and aligning them with organisational objectives.

Giles is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI), the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT (FBCS), and The Institution of Analysts & Programmers (FIAP). His leadership across the UK and global technology companies has consistently fostered innovation, growth, and adept stakeholder management. With a unique ability to demystify intricate technical concepts, he’s enabled better ways of working across organisations.

Giles’ commitment extends to the literary realm with his forthcoming book: “Clearly Agile: A Leadership Guide to Business Agility”. This comprehensive guide focuses on embracing Agile principles to effect transformative change in organisations. An ardent advocate for continuous improvement and innovation, Giles is unwaveringly dedicated to creating a business world that prioritises value, inclusivity, and societal advancement.

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