Is Agile Doomed?

At NDC 2011, there were a couple of presentations about the state of the agile today. Of note, were Uncle Bob Martin’s excellent “The land that Scrum forgot” (That man can give a show just by reading from index cards!) and Michael Feathers’ “The mistake at the heart of agile”.  Until the videos are out, you can get the latter’s description on Gojko Adzic’s blog.

Kent Beck’s vision, the purpose of agile, was supposed to bring developers and customers together. But something happened on the way to paradise.

According to Uncle Bob, the developers lost the lead when scrum was taken over by project managers. At the beginning, XP practices were the basis of the agile movement. But when Ken Schwaber started his scrum training courses, it was project managers, rather than developers that got the certifications. And as I’ve noted in my presentation, certifications speak the language businesses understand, and one of its keys to success.

Michael Feathers goes back further to see where the separation began. He states that It started because both XP and scrum saw the need to protect the development team within the organization. They needed to make sure that project managers, product managers and others do not rock the boat of development. The product owner in the team, is basically a gatekeeper, keeping all others outside. The abstraction kept development efficient. But it also made development less effective.

How can we overcome the division?

Uncle Bob suggests the craftsmanship movement may be the last chance to take back the ownership over the agile process, and realize Kent Beck’s vision.  Michael Feathers suggest another insight: Instead of the segregated development team, build heterogeneous teams that include not just developers, but also business specialists, support teams, etc..

Interesting stuff. While between the two, I feel more drawn to Michael’s utopic solution, both endgames seem far-fetched. I don’t see craftsmanship taking over, because business won’t let it. And as Michael suggests, re-organization of the business will be only due to business understanding that it will make it more competitive, and that requires better management. We’re a long way from there.

Is agile doomed?

Not necessarily.

In order to achieve the connection between developers and customers, more developers need to cross over to other business roles. They will be able to speak both languages: business and develop-ish. With more power and influence they can affect how organizations structure themselves, and maybe pull towards Michael’s solution.

Developers are key in realizing the agile vision. But for agile to succeed, they need to learn a second language.

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