Agile Campfire-Romance

by Sven JohannNovember 7, 2012

Just to get us started, have you ever had a look on the original paper describing the waterfall model? You really should, have look at it. What you see is surprising; the author shows the famous waterfall diagram on page 2 and directly below he writes “… the implementation described above is risky and invites failure”. Managers (and developers?) just misunderstood the concept over the past 40 years. Maybe even worse, many project managers never actually read the paper and just adapted the waterfall model by “hear-say”. The good ones have been incremental and iterative for the last 40 years!

Even more misunderstandings…
Have you had a look on many so-called agile software projects over the past 24 months? Very likely yes. What did you see? Maybe projects claim to be agile, because they do a stand-up every morning, because they do not do BDUF any more, because they have a product owner and so on. But many things, which are needed to be agile, let’s say trust for example, which is often ignored, because “that doesn’t work for us” (you could also say, we only want to change the parts, which are easy to change). The ScrumBut gained some attention here: <We use Scrum, but> <we have these unique circumstances> <so we have had to modify Scrum so it works here>. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but many projects have a too simplistic idea of agile adoption (or adaption).

The hip & trendy v’s the bad & evil
Yes, agile is “hip” these days, agile is “trendy” and the rest is “bad & evil”, so everybody claims to be agile. Clear, who doesn’t want to be agile? You have a project where agile doesn’t fit well? What do you say? We’re not agile? Sounds strange, right?
I suspect, agile software development will suffer the same destiny like the waterfall model: misunderstood and misinterpreted. That’s because many people sit around the campfire, eat marshmallows and talk about how great agility is. Agility, the desired silver-bullet in software engineering. No architecture, no documentation, just hacking… wait a minute. That’s XP, Scrum is different: daily stand-up, product owner, bi-yearly releases, full-planned backlog for the next 2 years, quality-assured requirement documents named user stories… wait a minute, that’s wrong, that’s not agile.

Innovators, Imitators, Idiots
Why do we find these interpretations over and over again? We may find a hint for that in Warren Buffetts comment on the natural progression of how good ideas go wrong. He called this the “three Is.” “First come the innovators, who see opportunities and create genuine value. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. Sometimes they improve on the original idea; often they tarnish it. Last come the idiots, whose avarice undermines the innovations they are trying to exploit.” (initially from William Taylor and nicely described for agility by Jim Highsmith).

Why care?
Should we care? No! As stated above, any complex idea will always be misunderstood in the broad. If you want to change that, you have to change mankind. Good luck with that! We have to accept the wrong interpretations of agility and that agility will be blamed in the future for failed projects. Maybe we’re also interpreting it wrong? Maybe a bit? Let’s work on it.

Which memes are spread?
But a lot of things have changed through the agile movement, even the worst misinterpretation cannot change that. Agile software development questioned successfully the possibility of a complete a priori planning for complex (software) projects. We rather want short feedback-cycles with a lot of communication. Projects with fixed scope, fixed quality and fixed price are also successfully questioned. Better price models are on the way. Added value is more important than following a process description. Trust and respect is not something for crybabies, it is rather an engine for productivity and replaces time-consuming finger-pointing.

We have to go on…
There are a couple of innovations we should put an eye on: DevOps, continuous delivery, the conversations over technical debt, Lean, Kanban, Agile Leadership. The Scrum Alliance has a new strategy and they want to make sure, that new ScrumMasters should know that “Scrum Is not Enough” and that there is a whole world of great, agile ideas out there. I am keen to read their upcoming articles about Lean and XP to get new ideas.

Anyway, this is just a little insight into my take on this matter, interested to discuss this further and gain even more insight then join me at our next tech session in December. It’s free, fun and we even serve Pizza & Beer.

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