Is Post-Agile Just Agile?

| by Geoffrey Wiseman Follow 0 Followers on May 09, 2007. Estimated reading time: 1 minute |

There's been some discussion lately about Post-Agile.

For some people this is simply the inevitable "What's Next" that follows adoption. This is the same urge that causes people to ask what will come after Java, or what comes after usability.

For others, Post-Agile means following the base principles of agile methods without following any one method to the letter, adopting those practices that work for you and your team and leaving the rest behind. This is what Jonathan Kohl, Tim Beck and Jason Gorman are talking about. And, in fact, it's not far off from some of the concepts that Michael Hugos is talking about in the 30-Day Blitz

After digesting some of the post-agile commentary, J. B. Rainsberger questions whether Post-Agile, as described above, is simply Agile:

Being agile requires adapting the process to local conditions, so I can't understand why adapting the process to local conditions would be something other than agile. I hope stating it that way makes the fallacy apparent.

He argues that Agile is not one, or a set of dogmatic processes:

What I dislike about Kohl's post-agile formulation is that it assumes that agile is the worst way it's practiced: thoughtlessly. That is not agile; and Kohl's conception is not post-agile. It might be post-bad-agile or post-dogmatic-agile, but what he calls post-agile is really just agile.

So, does Post-Agile mean anything to you, or does it just sound like Agile? For more coverage of either, stay tuned to InfoQ.

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Maybe just someone trying to distinguish themselves? by Ben Edwards

All too often when some idea or movement reaches a certain velocity or uptake it gets detractors. Just be the shear numbers of people "doing Agile" you will see people being ineffective. One of the unstated principles of Agile is "do what works in your situation" - adaptability is key to the process too. These people are simply taking that to the extreme and trying to make a name for themselves by "attacking" the beast that is Agile.

Wrong End of The Stick by Joe Beck

I think - from what I've read about this so far - that J.B. Rainsberger has failed to spot the distinction these authors make between "Agile" (with a capital 'A') and "agile" (with a little 'a') - one being the social/commercial entity (the Church of Agile or the "Agile hype") and one being the actual values and practices. Jason Gorman has responded to some of these misunderstandings on his blog -

He sways he is "post-Agile" and "agile", and sees them as seperate and distinct. Or maybe I've read that wrong.

Whatever - I'm finding this a fun debate!

Re: Wrong End of The Stick by Kelly Waters

Personally I hadn't really got this distinction either.

I think, whatever you call it, following a prescriptive process blindly regardless of whether or not it suits your team or situation is just a little naive and unlikely to yield the best results.

For those with less experience, however, it can still be somehwat useful and better than making it up as they go along :-)

Certainly adapting any given process requires a lot more skill and experience than simply following one.

For this reason, on my blog I've tried to focus more on agile principles than any particular methodology. Here I've listed 10 key principles that I think apply regardless of what methodology you choose, if any.

Kelly Waters

Agile is one step further to Software Development Effectiveness by Juan Bernabo

One guy that I know said it really nice:

"After Agile there will be just software development."

Agile is helping us wake up from illutions created by some ineffective paradigms.

If software industry goal is to add value to our society, then there will be the need for the next awakening from the next illusion created from some ineffective paradigm we live on and we don´t yet know.


Um, agile? by Nicholas Piasecki

Everyone, please remember that probably the vast majority of people doing development on this planet have never even heard of "agile development" *at all.*

Please, get over yourselves. Agile, post-agile, pre-agile, anti-agile, banana-agile are all better than no software development process at all. The "no process" aspect happens all the time, even by people who call themselves software developers.

If you are the type of person who reads programming blogs and InfoQ, then you are fine. Find what works for you and your business. Call it something. Then keep it to yourself.

We've always been "post-agile" by Bruce Rennie

I mean, isn't that the entire reason there are distinct methodologies under the agile umbrella? Because the practices have always been less important than the core values or philosophy?

I think we're far too concerned with names for our own good here. I mean, you don't see shops worrying about whether or not they are "post-waterfall" do you? I hate to say it, but I believe that a most of this is done to fuel consulting careers and not necessarily by any concern for clarity or to actually add to the agile arsenal.

Re: Maybe just someone trying to distinguish themselves? by J. B. Rainsberger

I would caution you and others against assuming the Post-Agile group's intent. Rather than ask whether Jonathan Kohl and the others are "just trying to distinguish themselves", you could just ask them if that's the case. That sounds weird, but being Agile or Post-Agile is, in part, about being honest. I spent time trying to distinguish myself, and I thought my own agile brand would help. It didn't, but I tried.

Re: Wrong End of The Stick by J. B. Rainsberger

I haven't failed to make the distinction between Agile and agile. Perhaps you've heard of the saying that a Special Term, that once needed to be capitalized, eventually becomes an everyday term, that doesn't need to be capitalized, depending on how widely-understood it is. I used to write "Agile" all the time, and now I write "agile", because I don't think "Agile" is really all that special any more.

Now if the Post-Agile authors want to use "Agile" to refer to badly-practiced agile, they do so at their own risk, because that's not how most people use the word "Agile", and indeed, that's the problem I see: two groups using "Agile" and "Post-Agile" to mean the same thing, and two others groups using "Agile" to mean different things.

People wonder why I make just a big deal about variable names. This is why.

Re: Um, agile? by J. B. Rainsberger

If we don't name the processes, then how do we talk about them?

Re: We've always been "post-agile" by J. B. Rainsberger

Are you a consultant? Have you been a consultant? As I wrote above, assuming intent in others is a tough business. You have to be really good to do it accurately, and when you do it inaccurately, you damage a person's reputation. Is this debate worth that?

There's always been this division by Paul Oldfield

Even among the original approacheswhose advocates formed the Agile Alliance, there was, to my eyes, a split between methodologies using a fixed approach to produce an agile product (one that could respond to changes in requirements) and methodologies that were adaptable and could respond to changes in environment. Jim Highsmith and Alistair Cockburn were definitely in this latter catagory, while the XP advocates appeared initially to be in the former. Again to my eyes, this division seems to have softened; all approaches now admit adaptation to changing environment... XP now claims to be a good starting point from which you change as you find you need to change. IMHO and without having delved through the whole debate, it's just 'agile as it ought to be'. Perhaps it always was, in the minds of the originators.

Re: Wrong End of The Stick by Deborah Hartmann

Joe, this is interesting to me...

When I started writing news here, I decided to use the word "A"gile for the development approach, because the word "agile" has so many meanings (inside and outside software). I figured that by using the A it would be clear to readers what I was talking about. I was looking for semantic clarity, simply.

That said, I do believe that eventually "A"gile will become absorbed into mainstream software culture and no longer be a useful term. But for now, when writing news, I am writing in the context of a particular, historical software development approach... So at this point in time, I find the "A" useful and helpful for my own communications.

I think I'm partially also trying to reclaim the term "A"gile from those who would twist it to describe bigoted, heavy-handed imposition of a methodology. Imo Agile is about how we think, about values and principles. We cannot execute principles - but teams can inject them into the choices they make, in order to deliver value. Which (when successful) can make them into "a"gile software teams.

Some have commented to me that the "A" is not needed. And in practice, when *applying* it, I do agree it's less important. But in the world of *writing*, of concepts and ideas, the "A" describes a particular approach, a certain means to the end of becoming "a"gile enough to respond to change gracefully and productively. Which, of course, is where the rubber meets the road.

Re: Wrong End of The Stick by J. B. Rainsberger

Certainly, as terms go from being Capitalized Because They Are Special to no-longer capitalized because they are mainstream, not everyone drops the capitals at once. If you find it helpful to retain the "A" in agile, I won't stop you. I just might not do it myself.

Re: Wrong End of The Stick by Joe Beck

From what I've read out there in various blogs, there seems little doubt that there really is a "church of Agile". These are the people who are more intent on spreading the word and recruiting members - and attacking critics (more on that later!) - than on living by the guiding principles and values and "doing good works". I've seen them. Met them. Worked with them. They DO exist - in significant numbers.

I agree that the big "A" little "a" thing is fiddly, but it I think it actually was fiddly to start with. Has there ever been a wide consensus?

Some of the responses to Jonathan Kohl (accused of being "pretentious" by one blogger) and others who've floated this term seem, as JB says, a bit presumptious. They almost sound like ad hominem arguments, and that's a bit too "Scientology" for my liking. I mean, isn't it true that XP contained no genuinely new ideas either? Weren't Beck, Jeffries et al just "consultants trying to make a name for themselves", too.

Maybe this is exactly the kind of thing Jason Gorman was getting at in his reply? From reading his blog, though, he seems a bit of an anarchist. I don't get any sense that he wants to start his own church, 'cause I've not seen any evidence of any kind of alternative - except "do what works for you", which isn't a book I'd buy! He's quite a fan of XP, from what I can see.

Re: We've always been "post-agile" by Chris Norton

Do we really need to be _that_ precious about expressing our opinions?

The people's front of Judea by Chris Matts

I have heard about "Post-Agilism" from a number of sources. Just like Agile, each person has a different meaning and understanding. This is MY observation ( I own it in the sense I do not want to project it onto other people ).

Agile started as a niche. Some people have developed their careers around agile, some just liked the ideas, tools, late night chats and beers. Most are a mixture of the two. As agile became more successful and new people joined the community, some aspects of Agile have become more focused and dogmatic.... "Do it this way!", or rather, "this is the best way to do it when you start". Mainly, its because thats what a lot of newbies want. "Don't tell me "there is a way", just tell me which book and software to buy." i.e. The community is addressing the level 1 new entrants. The parts of the community pushing Agile are often doing this because it provides them a revenue stream. As a result, the stream of cool new tools, ideas, chats and beers has slowed a lot as we focus on making hay.

Try explaining XP to a person. Then a second, and a third.... After a few years of this. You might cut a few corners. Be less tolerant. A bit more direct. Sound a bit evangelical. However, if you want to see an Agile bigot on their home turf, go to an Agile conference (Church). When you find a bigot, well done, because there aren't many to be found. Most people in Agile mainly listen. You learn more when you listen than when you talk... And Agile is a learning community. A community that learns and develops/evolves tools.

Lets be clear, most early adoptors of Agile went straight in at level 2 or 3. A number of these guys, those people in the community for the cool new tools, ideas, chats and beers(the early adopters) are harking back to the good old days. They want the fun back rather than spend all their time "working" on bringing newbies up to speed. I know a number of people who have moved on from Agile. Hence Post-Agilism. We (I am one of them as well as an agilist, and a father, and a middle aged fat guy) want to turn up the volume on the new stuff as well as teach to the newbies.

The Post-Agilists are "_T_he People's front of Judea", or is it "the people's front of Judea" or rather "The Judean People's front."

I have my own definition of Agile to add to the other several thousand I'm aware of.

"Having fun whilst learning new tools to do my job better."

Post agile = agile by Olav Maassen

The whole agile movement is about .... well, agility / flexibility.

The people on the project are the most important asset of that project. The proces exists only to enable the people and their communication.

Any agile methodology is intended to be customized for the specific environment it is applied to. (For OO-programmers: Acquisition). As Chris Matts points out, this is hard to do for level 1 practitioners.
Fact is there are a lot of software developers new to agile.
Fact is that many of them are level 1 practitioners.
Fact is that level 1 practitioners of any craft first practice their craft dogmaticly to acquire enough experience to become level 2 practitioners.

While we as agilistas may not like this, many projects apply agile methodologies dogmatic te be able to learn. It is my fear however that many of these projects will use agile as an excuse for failure and not advance to level 2 practitioners.

Post-agile to me is nothing more than a next step is agile's growth proces.

Re: Post agile = agile by Joe Beck

Isn't this exactly the problem they've been describing? This unswerving drive to claim any fertile methodological ground as essentially 'agile'. Plus, aren't these "level 1 practitioners" - and who are we to judge? - sheepishly learning orthodox dogma in order to "go Agile"? Is agility now an end in itself?

Why start by adopting XP "by the book", for example? Why not start with how you currently work and evolve your processes from there - perhaps working towards specifici performance and quality goals, rather than towards a goal of "being agile", whatever that means? Or is that 'agile' too?

I suppose any common sense approach that anybody proposes is going to be labeled 'agile' until the fashion wears off.

Re: Post agile = agile by Chris Matts

Agile is a name. Simply that. You see a bit of land and call it "New Amsterdam", someone else comes along and calls it "New York", yet another person calls it "Mine". The name chosen says more about the person chosing the name, and their relationship with the named thing, than the named thing itself. When Agilistas call something "Agile", they are saying that they think it is a good (software) thing. Its a compliment. You may chose to call it common sense, they call it Agile.

Funnilly enough, the Agile community understands the value of labels and recently opined that any "certification" (label) gained from a five day training course that has a 99% pass rate probably isn't worth that much. True skills are earned over time through practice. This goes against standard practice in the quick fix/silver bullet software industry. As such, the Agile community is paying tribute to successful communities such as the doctor's, lawyers and accountants. I am a BA by training. I interview many ex-accountants who are now BAs. They would be horrified if an unqualified person were to prepare the statement of accounts for a company but they feel there is no problem that someone with a "Five day training course" specify the general ledger system. Its not them, the problem is that its the accepted norm in software. The Agile Alliance has recently spoken out about this practice. Mainly because we believe in "People over Process". You can learn a process in 5 days, but you can't learn years of practice in 5 days.

Before anyone gets upset by the whole 1, 2, 3 thing because I've not explained it properly. Alistair explains it very succintly but it takes a chapter or two. I'll try in a line or two, and get it wrong. No one in Agile is labeled 1, 2, or 3 individually. They are self selecting demographic groups. "Level 1 do not know and want to know the one best way to do something.", "Level 2 wants to know/knows many ways.", "level 3 knows there is a way". It is taken from the martial arts (Shu-Ha-Ri) and the way you learn them.

Re: Post agile = agile by Joe Beck

So that's a "yes", then? ;-)

Re: Post agile = agile by Chris Matts

Yep, its a _Y_es... Apart from Agility as an end in its own right. The aim of any business investment (there is no such thing as an IT project) should be business value, not working software.

Judging from this trail, when Agile wears off we will find "Post-Agilism" underneath the surface layer of Agile ;-)

Re: Post agile = agile by Joe Beck

Judging from this trail, I think that process has already started :-)

Re: Post agile = agile by J. B. Rainsberger

Clearly there are many people who confuse agile with incremental, since incremental approaches are common in agile. Those who start by adopting XP by the book are simply submitting to a full-on learning approach; those who start where they are and apply XP solutions to their biggest problems one by one are adopting XP incrementally. Both are on the path to agility.

Another problem is that we confuse being agile with becoming agile (or Agile). I am very guilty of this. I like to say, as I've learned from others, that XP is what you do once you master the practices. In a way, no-one does XP. The problem with that definition is that it doesn't describe much, so people reject it. As a result, I adopt more mundane working definitions of XP merely as a way to enable communication. Sometimes I forget that I've compromised, and that confuses people when I say that XP is what you do after you master the practices.

As for labeling all common-sense approaches as "agile", it's possible. This is likely another form of confusion: confusing being agile with doing something that overlaps with the agile philosophy. I don't know what to do about that; I suppose it's just part of the lifecycle of ideas.

Re: Post agile = agile by J. B. Rainsberger

Perhaps so. I think that "post-agile" will be "what we meant by 'agile' before the natural idea adoption cycle mangled its meaning."

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