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Opinion: Agile Success Is Not Dependent on Agile Techniques

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The marvelous successes of Agile teams are fact.  But so are the failures: the cases of 'fragile' adoption, 'we suck less' adoption, and many others where Agile teams fail to produce great software and/or fail to effect the organization as a whole.  Is this something that can be addressed and 'fixed', or is Agile development only useful for a some teams?

Here is a thought: the major improvements in technique have already been introduced and all of the major improvements have already been made with respects to the Agile community.  The myriad of modifications, adaptations, and new labels are only incremental improvements.  The problem lies not within the processes and techniques that we are constantly trying to improve, but the problem lies within us - the people building the software.  There is a story that I heard years ago and it has stuck with me:

A new agricultural college grad is speaking to an old farmer and telling him about all the new techniques that he has learned and how he can help the farmer double and triple his crop. The old man looks at the young grad and says "son.... if I did half the things I already know I would have double the crop."


Could that be what is happening in the Agile community today? Could it be that the failures are not failures of the older Agile techniques to produce value in today's different environment? Could it be if we did the simple things we already know, most of the failures would be marvelous successes? This reporter certainly thinks so.

The next logical question is "why don't we do what we know will work?"  This is a painful question.  If we know what works, why don't we do it?  Here is what I have found to be true: success of Agile adoption is 100% reliant on the people; the people practicing it must take ownership for their problems and face the ugly truths that surface in a disciplined manner.  Note that these two facts don't fall under any of the Agile methods (new or old) but are implied by almost all of them.

But "facing the truth" and being "disicplined" are not easy things to do.  There are people who are predisposed to this and find Agile techniques natural and empowering.  There are others - and I would hazard a guess of greater than fifty percent of the population of human beings - that these behaviours do not come naturally.   I know of no way to force people to do these things and I'm not quite sure that teams and organizations can be "changed" to do so.  Thoughts?

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