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James Shore: The Decline and Fall of Agile

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James Shore has declared agile to be in decline. He cites the many teams doing 'sprints' and stand-up meetings, without adopting any of the technical practices necessary to produce high-quality software over the long-haul. In his estimation, this has led to thousands of Scrum teams doing agile so poorly that they will almost certainly fail, and possibly take the agile movement with them.

James lays a large portion of the blame on Scrum, and the misapplication of Scrum. He compares Scrum with Extreme Programming (XP) and notes that Scrum intentionally leaves out the engineering practices that XP includes. Scrum is silent on topics such as pair programming, test driven development, continuous integration, and test automation. Without such practices, a team can quickly build a large, buggy, and unmaintainable code base. This then becomes a weight around the neck of the team, preventing them from responding quickly to change, as an agile team should.

James thinks it's not all the fault of Scrum, however, as each team must take responsible for its own success or failure. Many are choosing to adopt only the superficial, and easy, parts of Scrum such as short development sprints and daily stand-up meetings, while ignoring harder, yet critical practices such as reflecting and improving. Via this process, teams are empowered to identify and adopt the engineering practices that they need to deliver shippable software every iteration. Unfortunately, many teams fail to take this step.

Several commenters preferred the view that the problem isn't Scrum itself, but the people who are implementing it poorly. For example, Dustin Whitney said "To me you are just describing mediocrity​, which will never go away. I don't think it's fair to blame scrum for the failures of mediocre developers and project managers."

In James' view, the failures, regardless of reason, may lead to agile being labeled a fad, and fading away.

So, unfortunately, a lot of self-described Agile projects are going to fail. They're failing right now. And eventually Agile will take the blame, and it will pass, as all fads eventually do.

Simon Kirk responded to all of this more optimistically:

I don't disagree with the premise that a lot of what's being done now under the name of "agile" is anything but. On the the other hand I truly think that this stage is an inevitable step along the road of a wider adoption of agile (by which I mean properly done agile, by the way).

Is agile a fad? Is it too hard for most teams to do effectively? Or is agile just experiencing growing pains on the way to ever-wider and more successful adoption? Leave a comment and share your views.

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