Monday, April 9, 2012

Which Part of the Glass Are We Talking About?

The CHAOS report says agile projects succeed three times more than non-agile, reports Mick Cohn. Good news, until I recalled that the CHAOS manifesto defines success as on budget, on time, and with all planned features. Show me an agile project that has all the original features in it, I dare you. Agility has change built-in, which makes the CHAOS manifesto definition a contradiction in terms.

Then the State of Agile review tells us things are on the up and up, agile-wise. And read that: 70% of those doing some kind of agile development are doing unit testing!

Not likely. They may be doing some kind of automated testing, and may call what they are doing “unit testing”, but most of them don’t.

That also applies to “scrum”. Or “agile'’.

Let me present you with my half-empty glass. One of the signs of agile’s decline, is the incorporation of “agile” into non-agile orgs in a non-agile fashion. A part of the process is taking agile terms and “fitting” them into the company’s existing culture.

The indoctrination of agile by the non-agile business changes the original meaning of the terms and the values behind them. So in most companies, “Agile” means more stand-ups, and less working software. The agile adoption starts, and sometimes ends, with communication processes, rather than the adoption of software practices. Effectiveness is  what business people understand and crave. Working software to them can be done by typing faster.

The problem, is that at some point, this kind of “agile” will fall short on the promise real “agile” made: to save the business from destructive projects. And when these failures accumulate, agile will be the scapegoat, with or without quotation marks. Then, we, the ambassadors of agile, will need to find new ways to rebuild the trust given to us by business, but lost because of misuse.

The irony is that the whole process is iterative. We’ll rename agile, show results, business will show interest, try to take over, succeed in the beginning, fail eventually, back to square one.

But these cycles take years, even decades. Hopefully we’ll be here to see the next round.


Stephen Jones said...

I sympathize with your desire for "real Agile" and fear of Agile's decline but I'm more discouraged by all-or-nothing purists.

These arguments remind me of the anti-evolutionary argument of "irreducible complexity" that say that something like the human eye could not have evolved because if you take away any part of it, the whole ceases to function.

But, I've seen Agile "parts" work separately to improve software development. Absent any other agile processes, SCRUMs are better than hour long status meetings. Iterative design is better than big-requirements-upfront. Having user stories for a single, isolated project still server that project even if they don't exist for any other project. Unit testing one new component is a good start.

Still, I do agree that in some cases the failure of bad, partial Agile can be just the excuse management needs to reject Agile altogether. That's bad.

However, I'd say more often you shouldn't be discouraged by Agile parts being absorbed into largely un-Agile organizations. Sometimes, that small outbreak can lead to a full-scale infection of the wider organization.

Gil Zilberfeld said...

Thanks Stephen!

I would like to see improvements whenever possible. So minor improvements are welcome...

But I'm pointing at the big picture. People are buying into "agile is improvement". That's good. But much like fame, it costs. When you don't invest in its success, the failure is going to be put on the method, not the organization.

When this happens in many organizations, it will even make a bigger splash. And backlash.

Hence my emptier half.

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