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Is Agile in the Trough of Disillusionment?


Gartner hype cycle is a representation of the maturity of any new technology. As a part of its cycle, it characterizes the over enthusiasm and the following disillusionment which occurs when a new technology is introduced. Given that Agile recently celebrated 10 years, disillusionment should be the last thought. Or is it?

William Pietri mentioned that he was delighted a few years back when the general community started taking agile seriously. It seemed that the mission had been achieved. However, now the feeling is different.

At the time, it was very exciting. In retrospect, perhaps that was the beginning of our doom: the car passed the crest, picked up speed, and careened out of control. Now the state of the Agile world regularly embarrasses me, and I think I’ve figured out why.

According to William, though Agile waved over the first chasm, it fell in the second chasm. This is the situation in which late adopters don't measure the actual benefit that they have received. Rather, they judge their money's worth by feeling and appearance. Most money is made by making late adopters feel like that they have got something and are getting somewhere.

That’s the second chasm:an idea that provides strong benefits to early adopters gets watered down to near-uselessness by mainstream consumers and too-accommodating vendors.

Steven Willems suggested that the industry picked up on the Agile buzzword and today Agile is a victim of its own popularity. Steven added that, like any popular movement which is failing to deliver, a new trend starts to support and provide counterweight. This time around, that happens to be the Craftsmanship movement. However, the root cause for failure might still be the same,

My point is, once marketing and the money will discover it, it will be doomed as well. Unless, unless the craftsmanship movement can keep its anarchistic nature. Unless it can stay underground and irritate the would-be-agilists, reminding them what is all about day after day. Asking them constantly why we have a failing build for 25 days in a row. Why our scrum board is full of clutter and why it takes all this time to manage it? Why the documentation is so scarce? ...

A little more than a year back, James Shore had written about the decline of Agile. James had mentioned that people need to be made aware of the ground realities. They need sound engineering practices, strong customer voice, high quality communication channels and tooling. If teams think that they can work around these then they are doomed for failure.

The good Agile--the real Agile--it really works. I've seen it. My colleagues have seen it. It's been repeated hundreds of times, and some of those projects have succeeded for years. But those hundreds of successes will be drowned out by the thousands of failures.

Responding to a flurry of comments, William Pietri mentioned that pre-chasm Agile had delivered pretty much what it set out to. The post-chasm Agile was suited to what people wanted to buy rather than what they needed. That explains the state of Agile as it is today. He gave an interesting example,

I’m told that the people who originated the butter compartment in the refrigerator carefully thinned the door insulation near it, so that the butter was kept cool but not cold. That way the butter stayed spreadable. But all most people understood from looking at it was that there was suddenly a special place for butter, which seemed neat, so that’s what other manufacturers built, and that’s now what we have today. The form was preserved even as the point was lost.

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Community comments

  • Words and their application

    by Jonathan Woods,

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    It's funny - I'd be thinking recently "when's the backlash coming?" I'm still hoping that it will come from something even better, rather than being simply a negation or a call to return to the past.

    I haven't read William Pietri's contribution, but from the summary it sounds spot on. Isn't the issue simply about the word 'agile' and its meaning and application? Just because people have got into patterns of working which they call 'agile' doesn't mean they really are agile, and so when they demonstrably fail it isn't any reflection on the appropriateness of agility per se.

    I imagine most visitors here know better than me what agile 'really' is, but here's a first take: it's freedom, the ability to use your common sense and recognise then eschew cargo cultiness; it's test-driving change, leaving things cleaner, keeping an eye on debt and minimising it where it matters, writing idiomatic and expressive code, constantly sharing knowledge in sensibly sized teams, doing the most important thing first, not wasting time on process for its own sake, automating those things which machines can do faster than humans.

    Projects which do those things demonstrably succeed and are a lot more satisfying to run or work on. The bad things mentioned in the article don't fit with this definition, and so are failures to be agile, not failures in the agile philosophy itself.

    And re Scrum: poorly executed Scrum clearly isn't agile, and there are some who believe that even well-applied Scrum isn't… but that's another discussion!

  • Re: Words and their application

    by Adam Nemeth,

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    it's freedom, the ability to use your common sense and recognise then eschew cargo cultiness; it's test-driving change

    Excuse me, but can't it be, that people follow TDD / Standups / whatever as a cargo cult? I'm not so sure that TDD is always the single,only best solution to approach a problem.

    (Personally I prefer to have code styles where testable mistakes are avoided by style and language...)

    I believe Agile actually became a Cargo Cult following the Manifesto subscribers' practice.

    For example, Bob Martin (Uncle Bob), once wrote a book which uses UML modeling through; he never denied the usefulness of planning; where do Agile followers do this?

    I'm still hoping that it will come from something even better, rather than being simply a negation or a call to return to the past.

    I believe that also in the past, good engineers and teamleads choose the tools best fit for the given situation. I remember doing 5-minute standups years before hearing the word. I remember doing sprints years before scrum was introduced.

    And I also remember situations when I stood up for dropping them at a given situation, and use Lean, or - lo and behold! - use some RUP practices to better fit the needs, the culture.

    Is it just common sense? Not necessarily. I believe a profession cannot build solely on common sense, as it wouldn't be a profession anymore. But yes, always apply the things which fit the best according to your best knowledge.

  • Misunderstanding

    by Patrick Verheij,

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    I experience the mis-use of the word Agile frequently. Sometimes I even doubt myself when I talk about the subject because of the many, many opinions about what Agile really is. So I am not surprised.

    It seems that sometimes people forget what it means to be agile, what it means to continuously learn and adapt. Some people even say that they want their companies to be "completely agile"'. this makes my face pale in horror.

    So let's just keep doing it, because whether or not the term "Agile" will survive, you cannot and will never ignore the thought behind it. It will pop up eventually as something else.

  • Agile never appeared in Gartner Hype-cycle of emerging technologies

    by Udayan Banerjee,

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    Do you realize the agile never appeared in Gartner Hype-cycle of emerging technologies.

  • Fake Agile

    by Chris V,

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    What I see are a lot of companies which state they are agile without actually being agile. Perhaps they're a waterfall shop which implemented morning scrums. Perhaps they do iterations, but iterations which last 3 months. Either way, many developers at these shops think they're doing agile, but they're not. And they're not seeing the benefits.

    At some point, they're all going to question the value of doing anything agile at all. To them they think, "why should we bother?" It's a great question since they don't know any better.

    If I had to place a bet, these are likely the people who are lashing back at agile methodology. They haven't really worked in an real agile environment, haven't made the mental leap to an agile way of thinking, and aren't currently seeing the benefits of the agile method they've partially implemented.

  • Law of Raspberry Jam

    by Dave Nicolette,

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    Writing about the state of agile, Jim Highsmith ( mentions Jerry Weinberg's Law of Raspberry Jam: "The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets." The fact everyone says "agile agile agile" while few practice it "properly" is a sign of success. This is what the terrain looks like on the far side of the Chasm. Do you really expect Late Majority Adopters to behave like Innovators?

    I think the time has come to retire the word "agile" and consolidate the lessons learned over the past decade so that we can move forward. The butter is too cold.

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