Value by association

Do you care what label is on your shirt? Or your car? Or your laptop? I bet you do, but why? Is there something substantive underneath the fashion-victim facade or is it just some sort of post-modern tribalism?


A few of us have been debating the death (or otherwise) of agile, and it seems to come down to whether the agile brand has become devalued. I’d like to move the discussion back a decade or so and ask whether there was ever any value to the brand – value to the customer that is. (After all one of the principles in the manifesto states that “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer.”)

I don’t believe that a customer derives any value from a consultant simply because they are ‘agile.’ I don’t believe in ‘value by association.’ I don’t trust brands.

If you want a plumber or lawyer do you seriously just look through the Yellow Pages (or contemporary equivalent)? Really? Don’t you ask friends and family for recommendations first? And if their recommendations are all busy won’t you look for referrals or reviews or some “independent” verification of someone’s suitability for taking your money?

I don’t even think a personal recommendation is enough. Competence needs to be qualified. A family lawyer is not necessarily the right person to use in a patent law suit. Someone who has successfully deployed agile in a small organisation is not qualified to deploy agile at the portfolio level in a multinational (thanks @tastapod).

As well as ‘competence’, we should take into account ‘attitude’ when we choose who to work with. I use ‘competence’ in the sense that someone has the knowledge, skill and experience requisite to perform the task that I need done. But I’ve had plenty of bad experiences working with competent people who aren’t interested in doing the job well for me, which I think of as ‘attitude.’ Bad ‘attitude’ includes personal friction – you may be good & care, but if we can’t work well together then you’re no good for me. It’s a contextual, subjective thing.

So, back in the days when the ‘agile brand’ was untarnished, did it follow that agile consultants were good because they were agile? No, sir, it did not. It never did, it never has and it never will. The old saying says that “there’s a sucker born every minute,” but I think that seriously underestimates the problem. Brands are never a good indication of value. You need to assure yourself that the people you hire are ‘competent’ and have the right ‘attitude.’ It’s called “due diligence” (or caveat emptor) and it’s nothing new.

On my way home last night my laptop satchel disintegrated. I was walking past a luggage store, so I went in. There were various satchel’s on offer, but I bought one with a brand name that I recognised. It wasn’t the cheapest, but it wasn’t the most expensive. I could rationalise that it had features that none of the others had, but I won’t. In the end I’m just as human as the next human.

Well, almost.







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