Bet you knew I was baiting with that one.
I've always felt that this was utter nonsense. I now know first hand that it is utter nonsense.
I've just spent the last year helping a public sector IT organization transform the way they think and execute. That means I have plenty of stories to tell debunking this myth.
Here's one story, about the first team we introduced to agile methods (Kanban in particular) during this transformation.
Unionized staff, legacy technology, a fluctuating team size, and little practical experience in modern development practices. Picture an environment where one expects agile to wither and die.
What the team had going for it was a couple of folks who embraced the chance to do something different when they were given one. It wasn't the entire team, just a couple of them.
That was enough. Courage and passion are infectious, and a team used to command and control is now experiencing self organization, and continuous improvement.
It's not perfect, it's not like in the text book. There are easily a couple of dozen things that could be better, and would make many an agile expert cringe. But that's the point, this team is continually trying to get better. Sometime they take a step forward, sometimes they take a step backwards, either way they keep trying.
They have quantifiable results too. Metrics, love them or hate them, are one way to communicate progress. Over a 9 month period lead times are 30% better, throughput is up 100%.
Every environment can be changed for the better. You just need to take a risk.