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Reflections on the Growth of Agile

There is currently a vigorous debate happening in the software development community about whether or not agile development methodologies are being corrupted as they gain in visibility and popularity. On one end of the spectrum is Google employee Steve Yegge. Steve had previously written about the distinction between "good agile" and "bad agile," but Steve recently wrote a piece in which he ceases to even pretend to have any respect for Agile or its practitioners:

So, you know, just send all your disposable income to an Agile Consultant near you. Any one of them will do just fine. They all say the same thing: "You don't quiiiiiite get it yet. Cha-ching!"

Previous criticisms of Agile by Steve Yegge and Joel Spolsky have been discussed previously on InfoQ, and such criticisms aren't new. What is new is the extent to which the agile community itself is questioning the current direction of Agile. Martin Fowler recently wrote about the semantic diffusion of the word "agile":

Semantic diffusion occurs when you have a word that is coined by a person or group, often with a pretty good definition, but then gets spread through the wider community in a way that weakens that definition. This weakening risks losing the definition entirely - and with it any usefulness to the term... Semantic diffusion is a painful process to watch, particularly for those who find the ideas useful. At the moment I see signs of despair for [the term "agile"], some people in the agile world are talking of ditching the word agile.
Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is Matt Heusser, who asks in a series of blog entries whether or not agile has "jumped the shark":  
The problem is that by saying "Embrace Change", we are also saying "Get over your fear of loss of control", and there are a whole lot of people in this world who don't want to. They want to be told that they can have their pie and eat it too. And they have titles like VP of Development, CIO, CEO, or CTO... This means there is a market, with money, who want to be told how they can have all this agile stuff and also have CMMI, or Architecture, or Portfolio Management, Long Range Planning, or a Crystal Ball... So we get Agile RUP and Agile CMMI and Agile Portfolio Management, Agile Issue Tracking and Resolution, Agile Systems Architecture, and get slowly pulled back into the world we were trying to escape from... The tent is too big and we've given credence to ideas and concepts that we should not have, to the point that it is very hard to tell "good Agile" from a bunch of consultants that can't ship software but know the right buzzwords.

To drive home the point, Matt quotes a prescient Bob Martin from three years ago:

The word "agile" will become meaningless. It will be hijacked by loads of marketers and consultants to mean whatever they want it to mean. It will be used in company names, and product names, and project names, and any other name in order to lend credibility to that name. In the end it will mean as much as Structured, Modular, or Object.

Elisabeth Hendrickson offers a more hopeful summary in her piece titled "Inside the Secret Fears of Agilists":

It is possible that somewhere along the line, the word “Agile” will lose all meaning.  But if that happens it won’t be the end of Agile.  It will just be the end of a buzzword.  The Agile community may eventually decide to come up with a new, more meaningful label around which we can gather.  Or not.  Either way, Agility by any other name would retain the same balance of discipline and flexibility, and that’s the truly important thing.

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