Can software succeed even if Agile failed?

I’ve got very interesting feedback for my last post about the decline of agile. I strongly believe that producing quality software, regardless of how it is produced is the most important thing we can do, regardless if we’re developers, managers or anything in between.

But is it enough to save agile?

Maybe it’s the wrong question. Does “agile” matter if we’re still pushing out quality software?

I’ve thought a lot about it, mainly because of Bob Martin’s comment:

I take solace in the fact that while TDD is no longer a conference draw, my classes in TDD are enjoying ever larger attendance. More and more people are _adopting_ TDD, and getting serious about good software practice. And _that_ is the thing that will advance the software industry, no matter what happens to the "Agile movement".

If TDD succeeds, we’ll get what we want – working software. That will bridge the gap between developers and the business, and everyone lives happily ever after.

I see a small problem with that plan (although I really wish it came true).

For the last decade, people have adopted TDD. They went through many obstacles that the business had put in front of them. That’s why successful adoption was despite management, rather than with their support.

It’s different now, isn’t it? More organizations are “doing” agile, and it’s easier to get support for agile practices. It’s easier to get funding for TDD classes. Less obstacles means more adoption.

What happens if (and when) the backlash begins?

Organizations that implemented agile poorly, would cry foul. “You stupid people, you’ve done agile without supporting software practices. What did you expect? You can’t have working software without software practices!” We’d say. But it will be too late. The press will cry out “AGILE IS DEAD! Get off the ship before it sinks!”.

The business people who supported agile will make a U-turn. And the team leader who wants to do TDD will need to go back to working in guerilla mode. At night, when no one is watching. And she will do TDD. Only this time, there will be more obstacles than before, because of that “failed-agile-thingy”.

I’m sure the righteous people will continue to promote the software practices. It’s just going to be a tougher battle than it used to be.

So where does that leave “the agile movement”? A very small, disbanded group of heroes, who thought they found the bridge between software and business. Instead, they lost all hope in ever getting trust between the two parties.

I’d rather have that bridge than lose it. Even if I had Working Software.

4 Warning Signs that Agile Is Declining

I’ve been thinking lately about how agile turned out to be the way we know it today. And the more I think about it, I get more depressed.

You see, agile was supposed to save us all. It was supposed to be the bridge between business and developers. And 10 years after its inception, we should be happy that more than half of the projects are done in agile manner (depending how you interpret the numbers). Agile has crossed the chasm, but not like we imagined it would.

  • Companies are “doing agile”. But they do it the way they implemented processes for the last 200 years: Top-down. First they train the top management. Then they move on to directors. Then to team leads. And at the end, they get to the developers. Remember that “working software” part? It looks like they didn’t read the small print (much like in the waterfall case).
  • The business and development divide has grown. Because scrum won, we now have project managers as scrum masters. They don’t know much about software, and that doesn’t help bridge the gap between the two worlds. Developers still look at those scrum master certifications funny (with some reason on their side), and the PMs still don’t understand that in order to get to “working software” you need to persist with actual software development practices. Because if you don’t write tests, or refactor, your team will slow down very quickly. And that will not produce as much “working software” as it said on the side of the box.
  • It’s been just 10 years and we’re already looking for the new hotness. We didn’t have enough time to learn or adjust. Agile has now become “boring” and we’re looking to uncover more better ways to develop software. Those things that looked “shiny” a few years ago, like TDD or continuous integration, have lost their shine, and aren’t attractive anymore. Don’t believe me? check out the big conferences – seen these topics lately? Much like good management is dull and repetitive, so are agile development practices. But while we appreciate the old ways, apparently we value the new stuff more (without any good reason).
  • We can’t even appear as a united front. We’re bickering inside ourselves. Agile vs kanban, craftsmen vs non-craftsmen – you’re doing it wrong, we hear from every side. And since agile has now become mainstream, it has a lot of money pouring in, and the side (read: consultants and trainers) that shout the loudest get a piece of the pie.

At this point, I feel Agile is declining into what TQM was. A brilliant success in the beginning, and now just a history fact. In a few years, months even, the business side will wake up and say: Agile is snake oil. It doesn’t deliver on its promise (and it doesn’t matter if it’s done wrong). The backlash will be grand.

There is still some light at the end of the tunnel: Regardless of our role in the process, as long as we’re delivering working software, we’re contributing to balance this future backlash. As long as we stick to the original agile ideas, we’re helping agile win a few more hearts.

I hope our collective work will be enough, that results will prevail. But I fear we’re seeing the beginning of the end.

Don’t agree? Cheer me up in the comments!

The Agile Tribe Wars: The Prezi

I want to thank everyone who come to my presentation yesterday. I got my inspiration (and a few jokes) from the following presentations:

And for the people who want to read the Waterfall paper by Winston Royce – there you go!

For the people interested, I made the presentation with Prezi. I can say that although I didn’t get much of flash effects from it, it did help me to organize my material and thoughts.]

Finally, here’s the presentation. Enjoy!

The Agile Tribe Wars–At the next Agile Practitioners IL Meeting

If you’re in Israel, and understand Hebrew – you’re eligible!

Join me on Sunday, 4-Dec-11, for a lesson you’ll never forget (or at least for the length of the presentation)  - An agile history lesson. I’m going to talk about how we got here, what did we do on the way, discuss the question on everyone’s mind – has agile succeeded or failed. Oh, and where we’re going from here.

Register here!

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