Dave Harvey ran an evening session on ‘Agility in the UK’ at SPA2009 last and was kind enough to invite me to sit on the panel along with Tim Mackinnon, Rachael Davies and Ivan Moore. The session was basically a three-parter starting with reminiscences on how we all got started doing agile stuff 10+ years ago, what we think of Agile today, and what we expect for Agile in the future.
Everyone was very kind in tolerating our rheumy-eyed recollections and I managed to avoid recounting anything too scandalous or slanderous despite a couple of oblique references by Tim to a certain proposition. All I can say is “pass the sausage” – if you were there you know what I mean and if you weren’t, sorry but some things just aren’t meant for public consumption.
The ‘state of Agile today’ bit was what I’d been looking forward to. My position: the phrase ‘agile development’ has essentially become valueless (as Mark Stringer tweeted the other day, who would claim to be doing lethargic and arthritic development?); Scrum – seemingly the most popular of the Agile methods – is, well, not agile (see ‘Is Scrum Agile?’ post below); and many projects being run under an Agile banner are failing to adhere to the practices and principles and, hence, failing to deliver … just like the ‘waterfall’ approaches Agile is supposed to be superior to. Given the number of certified Scrum masters, professional Agile coaches and others with a vested interest in the room I’d expected a bit of dissent if not outright confrontation but not a bit of it … everyone seemed to be pretty much in agreement. I loved Rachael’s story about the silent daily stand-up where no-one said anything and actually didn’t bother to stand up either but was slightly disturbed by the number of people around the room nodding in glum recognition.
The prevailing view of the future of Agile seemed to be one of pessimism. The greater its adoption into the mainstream, the more diluted the core messages will become. As more companies make money selling Agile tools and training, the greater the incentive will be to not push the difficult stuff too hard (“Pair Programming is overrated, TDD’s a bit of a chore and all this refactoring stuff is just wasting time, but fortunately with ScruTernAnban 1.2 you can be Agile without having to do all that crap”). So I was happy to provide a very modest degree of controversy by stating my optimism. Not for Agile methods, mind you, but rather for achieving agility.
Businesses need agility: the ability to respond to change in a rapid and relatively low-risk manner. The rate of change isn’t slowing and business is going to be tough for a few years to come. Agile methods were an attempt at making IT teams deliver the kind of agility that businesses need but there are other way: SaaS, open data, mash-ups and so on are all ways that a business can very quickly and relatively painlessly get good value from software, and in many of these cases they can achieve it by bypassing their IT teams. Several people I know who are in a position to know about such things are confidently predicting the death of the traditional IT project and, by implication, the traditional IT department in the next ten years. Not sure I totally buy this but I do believe that SaaS providers will actually have to be agile in order to survive, not just pay lip-service to Agile methods; that open-data and mash-up techniques will allow very small teams to put together very valuable services in very short spaces of time; and that those IT teams who remain will have to deliver true business agility or else accept that others will come along and steal their lunch.
Perhaps the Agile community has become a bit too focussed on certification rather than learning, on easy rather than effective methods, and on being recognised as ‘being Agile’ rather than achieving agility. But I believe that the world is changing in a way that will force the Agile community to adapt or die and I’m optimistic that we will achieve the former.