Miljan Bajic

Miljan Bajic

Miljan is a very passionate Agile coach who truly enjoys challenges. As an Agile coach (CEC), trainer (CST), and mentor, he’s supported many organizations in their Agile and Lean journeys. Additionally, he teaches Agile Leadership and Process Improvement at the University of Southern Maine and Organizational Change at the University of Southern New Hampshire. 

Miljan is also a frequent speaker having participated in many international conferences and Agile events in Europe and United States.


If you haven’t had an “Agile” evangelist (like myself) hunt you down yet, here’s what to expect. We might suggest that if you don’t know how Agile and one of its popular frameworks will revolutionize your product, service, or industry, we think your company is squarely located under a rock.

Okay, I’m just kidding. But you know what I’m saying? Agile has become a jungle of tooling vendors and consulting companies selling frameworks that are implemented as a blueprint. There are too many cooks, when what we need are chefs. Let me explain…

Cooks and Chefs: Why Agile Has not Fixed Our Problems

By Miljan Bajic

If you haven’t had an “Agile” evangelist (like myself) hunt you down yet, here’s what to expect. We might suggest that if you don’t know how Agile and one of its popular frameworks will revolutionize your product, service, or industry, we think your company is squarely located under a rock.

Okay, I’m just kidding. But you know what I’m saying? Agile has become a jungle of tooling vendors and consulting companies selling frameworks that are implemented as a blueprint. There are too many cooks, when what we need are chefs. Let me explain…

Cooks follow recipes. Chefs create them. It’s much easier to copy recipes that work, and for many aspects of our life, it probably makes sense to act as a cook. Cooks span a wide range.

Cook by the Book

On one end, we have cooks who only cook by following a recipe to the letter, carefully measuring every ingredient precisely the way the recipe dictates. The result is a delicious meal that tastes exactly the way the recipe has it designed.

In the professional consulting and coaching industry, this is somebody who swears by their favorite framework and acts dogmatically like they just drank the agile kool-aid. How many people like this do you know?

Cook with Unique Style

Down the range a bit, we have more of a confident cook — someone with experience who gets the general gist of the recipe and then uses her skills and instincts to do it her way. The result is something a little more unique to her style that tastes like the recipe but not quite.

The professional consulting and coaching industry is full of cooks with a unique style. Everybody today calls themselves an agile coach and consultant. They all tend to claim that they have a unique style and experience. All they have is the general gist of agile frameworks and some confidence at this point in the spectrum.

Cook with Innovations

At the far end of the cook range, we have an innovator who makes her version. But what all of these cooks have in common is their starting point is something that already exists. Even the innovative cook is still making an iteration of a burger, a pizza, and a cake.

In the professional consulting and coaching industry, these are the experienced coaches and consultants that understand the underlying patterns and principles behind the frameworks. For cooks, even the more innovative kind, there’s almost always a ceiling on the size of the splash they can make in the world unless there’s some luck involved. In the past, there was nothing wrong with being a cook. In today’s environment, cooks without chefs to help them grow will not help you push boundaries and create solutions to the disruptions your industry faces presently and in the future.


At the very end of the spectrum, we have the chef. The chef reasons from principles, and for the chef, the principles are the available raw edible ingredients. Those are her puzzle pieces, her building blocks, and she works her way upwards from there, using what’s available, her experience, her instincts, and her taste buds. The chef creates while the cook, in some form or another, copies.

In the professional consulting and coaching industry, the essential thing the chef knows that the cooks don’t is what it takes to change the culture. In my upcoming book, Wicked Leadership, I show how organizational culture is shaped by the mindsets, actions, and systems. Chefs know that none of the frameworks work all the time. Instead, they help others learn the underlying thinking and principles (Systems Thinking, Complexity Management, Lean Thinking, Psychology, Culture, etc. ), then co-create a system that works best in their context. Chefs create more chefs. Is it in our DNA to be chefs? How many people do you know that want to be a chef?


In complex environments, we need to work to evolve our recipes as our ingredients change.

In the culinary world, there’s nothing wrong with being a cook. Most people are cooks because, for most people, inventing recipes isn’t a goal of theirs. Chefs are iterative and constantly evolving their recipes. When it comes to the reasoning “recipes” or frameworks we use to run our organizations, we may want to think twice about where we are on the cook-chef spectrum.

The Last 20 Years

Simply being a cook wasn’t the intent of most of the Agile Manifesto signers. The Agile Manifesto was written in February 2001, almost 20 years ago, as of this writing. In the intervening 20 years, organizations of all sizes, from the largest enterprises to the nimblest of startups, have attempted to follow the values and principles of agile. Agile — spelled with the capital A — has informed frameworks, framed transformational business strategies, and, in some communities, elevated to the status of religious dogma. In other words, we’ve become stubborn in our beliefs that agile is the way. We’re ever so sure that we’re right, that they, whoever they are, are wrong. Have you noticed it?

We’ve become stubborn in our beliefs that agile is the way.

Agile Hasn’t Fixed Our Problems.

As conceived by its creators, the entire premise of agile development was that its focus should be to deliver software and continually improve it to satisfy the customer’s changing needs. Any focus that did not deliver valuable working software to the customer should be eliminated. Somehow along the way, agile got redefined by the consulting industry and what the majority of people (cooks) thought.

The truth is that most agile transformations and adoptions never delivered what they promised. Agile adoption failure stories are abundant. Just talk to anybody that’s been part of one and hear what they have to say. A very large majority of all of these so-called “Agile” transformations and adoptions fail to generate the capability to adapt to changing market conditions. In this context, failure means that change initiatives that use agile approaches are reversed, canceled, or don’t deliver the desired results.

Agile, as we know it today, hasn’t fixed our ongoing problems. It never will. It was never meant to do that.

Regularly, thousands of coaches and consultants are asked if they could help bring agility and responsiveness to the organization. This leadership and organizational addiction to bringing in consultants and coaches to fix their problems have been around since the 1920s when James McKinsey and Marvin Bower injected the consulting industry with a professionalism that would shape it for the next 100 years. Bringing in coaches and consultants is like bringing in outside cooks and chefs to tell our kitchen staff what to do. The problem with this approach is that it only works until it doesn’t.

We need to trust our people and not be dependent on consultants to tell us what to do. Do you know anyone that’s tired of depending on external consultants? How about anyone that’s tired of not being able to create things and watch them flourish?

New England Clam Chowder

To say that I love the New England Clam Chowder would be an understatement. Made as it should be, is a dish to preach about, to chant praises and sing hymns and burn incense before. It has about a dozen ingredients that make it a signature dish here in the North Eastern United States. Similar to New England Clam Chowder, Scrum also has about a dozen ingredients (roles, events, artifacts, values) that make it a powerful framework for product development.

Now imagine that you are a cook who does everything by the book. But you don’t have all of the ingredients for the New England Clam Chowder. Instead of clam juice, you add white wine, and instead of butter, you add coconut oil because you heard from another cook that those are good substitutes. Now we have something that looks like a New England Clam Chowder but doesn’t taste like it. As a cook, you are not aware of how these new ingredients are reacting to other ingredients. I see this all the time with Scrum, where people pick and choose what they like from the Scrum framework. A few weeks ago, I did a workshop, and I heard somebody say that they’re doing Daily Scrum every other day because the team has too many meetings. It might look like they are doing Scrum on the surface, but when we look at the outcomes and behaviors, it’s not cutting the mustard. There is nothing wrong with using different ingredients if we know what we’re doing. Just don’t call it Scrum or New England Clam Chowder.

Why We Need Chefs

The new wave of agile is here, and guess what? It’s not coming from the consultants. It’s coming from the people and companies that have realized that to adapt to the changing market conditions, they need to create their own chefs and recipes.

In a fast-changing work environment, where “ingredients” are changing so rapidly, there is no single framework or recipe to address all our needs. If every team in our company is doing the same thing, we are not “big-A” agile or “little-a” agile. Instead, every team should be evolving its way of working. When we are truly agile we can change our direction very quickly — we can redirect individual teams and what they’re building very quickly. What I’ve seen is that we need about 10–15% of the employees to be able to step in and occupy the full cook-chef spectrum. How do we learn to be more like the chefs of the world, who seem to carve their own way through life so effortlessly? We need both chefs and cooks. We need our chefs to help the organization create more chefs. Our internal chefs need to create something delicious from the ingredients available rather than blindly following popular recipes and frameworks.

If you start looking for it, you’ll see the chef/cook thing happening everywhere.

Dare to be a chef!


© 2020 by Miljan Bajic

All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published at

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