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Avid Agile Adoption Engenders an "Equal and Opposite" Reaction

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It's been interesting to follow the rhetoric as Agile methodologies have moved from the fringe into mainstream software development circles. Software conferences no longer offer Agile as a sub-topic.... instead, they're stacked with leaders from the Agile community teaching on a myriad of (what are now considered) industry best practices. But along with this has come an increase in the volume of detractors, bent on opening the eyes of proponents to the error of their ways. Kathy Sierra, in 2005, reminded readers that this "Kool Aid" effect is just par for the course... and a good sign that a product is engendering passionate users. It seems users of methodologies are no exception, making her post is worth a second look in 2007.


Source: Kathy Sierra's Creating Passionate Users blog

Sierra maintains that for every passionate user out evangelizing {insert preferred methodology name here} to everyone they meet, a koolaid-hunter will do his (or her) best to make sure everyone knows that your passionate users have lost their minds. That they're victim of  fads and marketing hype.
If you create passionate users, you have to expect passionate detractors. You should welcome their appearance in blogs, forums, and user groups. It means you've arrived. Forget the tipping point--if you want to measure passion, look for the koolaid point.
Sierra noted that the most popular and well-loved companies, products, and causes have the strongest opponents, lauded by cohorts for having the nerve to speak out, even as the thing railed against gains momentum. She included Apple, Extreme Programming and Java in her list of entities with both fan clubs and strong opposition camps.

So, should we ignore detractors? Sierra reminded us that somewhere in their complaints we can likely find hints on places to improve - something that could feed quite naturally into our cycles of do-inspect-adapt. On the other hand, she warned, catering to them leads to the "Zone of Mediocrity", where we try to get everyone to love what we do... at which point, she explained "You're screwed". Read Sierra's Physics of Passion: The Koolaid Point.

The Agile software development approach will never be embraced by everyone - nor should it be. Agile software development simply is not the Silver Bullet that will magically solve everyone's software development woes. But, in the appropriate contexts, it has helped teams achieve some outstanding successes.

Sadly, Sierra has recently experienced the dark side of the Kool-Aid effect herself, with the incidental side-effect of increased readership on her blog, hence the resurrection of this useful and timely old post.  Sierra is co-creator of the Head First book series (Head First Java, Head First EJB, Head First Servlets and JSP, and Head First Design Patterns), founded the successful Javaranch.com community, is a master trainer for Sun Microsystems, and a popular blogger on software useability issues.

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Community comments

  • We could use a little less passion, methinks

    by Bruce Rennie /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I guess, for me, the main problem with the whole "passion" thing is that the argument very quickly becomes fact free. Heck, a lot of the arguments BEFORE our so-called kool aid point better resembled an argument between hockey fans more than a calm exchange of ideas.

    The silly thing is, agile doesn't really need a defense. It either works or it doesn't. If it does, the evidence will be clear and organizations will adopt it because it works. If it doesn't, why would we want to defend it? I don't see Toyota defending the TPS. They just go out and beat up Ford and GM.

  • Re: We could use a little less passion, methinks

    by Deborah (Hartmann) Preuss /

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I don't see an encouragement to *defend* Agile in Sierra's idea. The points I take away are:

    1) do a little introspection: is there a grain of truth in the criticism, that resonates with my own values? If so, at the right time: inspect, adapt.

    2) or is it coming from such a different place that it's irrelevant (i.e. energy spent pleasing people with this viewpoint would be wasted, wrt my own value system). In this case, I should move along and get more good work done!

    I think it's important for us learn to differentiate in this way, and so be at peace with criticism that doesn't contribute to better Agile work.

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