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Agile is Just a Piece of the Puzzle

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Recently, there were a lot of views expressed around the so called downfall of Nokia and whether Scrum was helping the organization at all. Similar concerns and thoughts were raised when Toyota had recalled cars dues to quality issues. Is Agile 'the core' factor in product development ?

Responding to a discussion “Nokia Demise: Is Agile to Blame?” on linkedin Scrum Practitioners group (membership required), David Updike responded that Agile is just one of the components for successful product development

Agile is but one factor in Product Development. In our contemporary society a successful product needs equal success in other areas such as Marketing, Sales and Advertising. Look at all the the buzz about iPhones/iOS, Android and even Blackberry and Microsoft Mobile technologies. They are all pushing the advertising bandwagon very hard. But where is the counter-punch from Nokia for Symbian? Yep, there was/is none.

Likewise, Mick Maguire and Bob Vandenberg agreed that Agile, in itself, would not ensure a good product or a successful strategy. It is just a part in the picture of the organization, which as a social organism has many parts.

Vernon Stinebaker, echoed the points made by Brad Murphy that Agile cannot be sold as a silver bullet. According to Vernon,

Agile is something we are (or are not), it’s not something we do (i.e. it is not a methodology, or a framework).
Methodologies and frameworks can support an effective agile organization, but ‘doing’ a methodology or dogmatically following a framework or process steps certainly doesn't make an organization or an individual agile … Lazy agile — ‘doing’ agile instead of being agile — will continue to fail. And it will continue to result in questioning whether agile fails: whether agile is viable and valuable.

Responding to Brad, Craig Larman mentioned,

also, naturally, product success is a result of more complex forces and factors than just enabling agility, transparency, inspecting, and adapting with scrum -- having a good product vision and not being wedded to the past are useful.

Siddhartha Govindaraj suggested that considering Agile to be the primary driver of the business is entirely misguided. Companies following Agile need to integrate well with business strategy, marketing and sales to be successful.

In most organizations, business strategy and marketing & sales departments have a much bigger impact on success than the quality of software. Agile has had a minimal impact on the bottomline, even in companies where agile is practiced well.
Agile is a way to build better software, but to think that its a primary driver for business success is misguided IMHO.

Thus, there seems to be strong general consensus that Agile is only a part of the puzzle. The key lies in understanding that practicing Agile the right way would uncover problems which would need to be fixed at various levels in the organization. As Ken Schwaber quoted , Scrum is no silver bullet, and that it does not bring out excellence, but exposes incompetence.

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Community comments

  • Agile had nothing to do with it

    by Jason Gorman,

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

    I spent a year working with Symbian in their software process mgmt/improvement team from 2006-7, and I can say with very high confidence that Agile had nothing to do with the current situation with the OS.

  • Agile is misunderstood...

    by Keith Barlow,

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

    It seems to me that Agile is often quoted in the context of speed rather than maneuverability. Frequently, people seem to cut corners in the name of agility (i.e. effort to reduce time/cost factors) instead of doing their due diligence and achieving speed through agility. I would be highly suspect of that in applications that fail in their attempts to apply agility.

    Agile refers to nimbleness... an ability to adapt to changes in requirements. Not an effort to ignore them or toss them. There have been many publications recently which attempt to find a balance between agility and formality. It's something I like to keep in mind as I work. Formality can be overly burdensome but is not without it's benefits - increased quality through planning for one.

    The balance between agility and formality is not an easy one to surmise and probably varies widely per project. Increased levels of agility are more successfully attained with higher levels of talent and experience in the portfolio.

    Like Stinebaker states above: "Agile is something we are (or are not), it’s not something we do (i.e. it is not a methodology, or a framework)." While frameworks layout a path for agility, it's principles must be adhered to through practice.

    Nokia may not have been as successful as others but I would be hesitant to immediately blame that on a particular agile method. While formality may have helped the situation, it is only another framework... not a substitute for craftsmanship or innovation.

  • Re: Agile is misunderstood...

    by Konstantin Ignatyev,

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

    Yes, Agile has something to do with it because Agile makes it easy to mistake 'activity' for 'progress'.

    When Agile is used 'dogmatically', or rather how it _says_ it should be used, it makes it easy to run in circles and report successes along the way.

    As always it boils down to the people and motivation - motivated people can use any process to achieve outstanding results. When such people are at the helm, then process does not matter.

  • put it this way....

    by james peckham,

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

    If those orgs had not used agile their projects that inevitably lead them to bad business probably would have never got off the ground. But... agility did not come up with the bad business practices or the poor quality in testing... people did.

  • Agilisti

    by Chris Goldsbury,

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

    Agile worked at one time. The spirit of agile made sense. It had the spark....but as I've hinted at in my article "Bad Attitudes of Agile"...the wheels fell off the bus. The fanatics took it over and turned it from a 'process' to a 'movement'. As a Technologist and Business Leader....I think there are hybrid approaches emerging which will focus on what I, and many others seek: results. Stay tuned...

  • We weary of anything that promises to solve all problems

    by Udayan Banerjee,

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

    If you expect Agile to solve all your project management and product development problem then you are sure to be disillusioned. Different types of project require different strategy. I have found the following classification of software project helpful:
    - ROI projects
    - Renewal project
    - O-Ring project
    - Hype-cycle project
    - Build-to-Flip project

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