What’s the Fuss about Agile?

Starting from 2013, there has been an increasing number of posts, articles, and analytics on the Internet about “the death of Agile”. More and more reputable consultants, developers, and bloggers have been sharing their explanations why Agile approach is no longer alive. Since we are a heavy user of Agile principles in our software development lifecycle, we at DIGIS decided to find out what is actually going on.

What is Agile and Why It Became so Popular?

By 2001, the world had been using traditional – or Waterfall, as it is called now, – approach to developing the software and managing the development process. But the software became more and more complicated and full of huge numbers of functions, so it turned to be way too difficult to manage the development processes and associated activities. So a group of 17 “middle-aged white guys” (words of Dave Thomas, who was one of them) adopted the Agile Manifesto where they pronounced how they would see the proper software development.

In addition to the Manifesto itself, 12 principles were established.

Understanding what is written in the Manifesto and its principles allows us to understand why Agile has become so popular:

  1. It provided a faster way to develop the software;
  2. It provided a method how not to be afraid of constantly changing requirements;
  3. It placed developers in particular and people in general above processes and tools.

In its initial meaning Agile means “flexible”, “adaptive”, i.e. shows how a software development process can adapt to particular requirements and situations. And it ensured a lot of benefits resulting from its principles, namely:

  1. Customer engagement and satisfaction;
  2. Development transparency;
  3. Fast and predictable delivery;
  4. Predictable cost and schedule;
  5. Flexible priority setting;
  6. Changes and modifications are welcome;
  7. Business value focusing;
  8. User focusing;
  9. Improved and way better quality of the product.

In 2009, Dr. David F Rico compared Agile with traditional methods of software project management. In the course of the comparative analysis he analyzed 23 Agile processes, comparing them with 7,500 traditional projects.

But, according to many speakers, it seems that immediately after adoption of the Manifesto, Agile has started to slowly become ruined.

Agile is Dead?

Dave Thomas, we have mentioned above, was one of those 17 ‘archpriests’ who adopted the Agile Manifesto. He and his comrades believed they were changing the way the software development would evolve.

I was proud of what we did, both the process we followed and the result it produced. And I think that the existence of the manifesto has helped developers break free from some of the wasteful and soul-destroying practices of the ’80s and ’90s.

Dave Thomas

But then the business started to take Agile as a process and as a tool, substituting its original purpose. The industry transformed the word “agile” into the noun instead of preserving its planned adjective nature.
Big corporations co-opted Agile methodology without changing their organization. They simply added new positions on their staff lists: Scrum Master, Product Owner etc., while saving Project Managers, Tech Leads and other. We mean that they tried to put dogs and cats in a single box.

According to the original Agile principles, there is no Project Manager or Tech Lead in an Agile team as it is a self-organized and self-motivated unit requiring no external guidance except for those coming from CEO/CTO. The whole idea of “agility” (read – flexibility and adaptivity) was killed.

This opinion is supported by Allen Holub, a software architect, teacher, consultant, and author of multiple books on software development.

In particular, in his presentation The Death of Agile at Software Architect 2014, Allen said that corporations transformed Agile into a sort of cargo cult, i.e. they try to make a sweet out of shit. They think that following a certain process will help them succeed, not conceiving that there can be a lot of such processes.

What corporations want is a canned product like this: Agile (TM). I mean they want to have a thing you may open and it somehow, magically, is going to change the things they’ve been doing, in a positive way. They don’t want really to change the way the things work.

Allen Holub

Mr. Holub showed the main and the only important process to be followed in the Agile methodology.

And we are in an absolute agreement with this approach: you need to work closely with the customer to find out what the customer wants and needs, build some small piece of the desired product, show it to the customer, get the feedback, adjust the piece accordingly and so on. No need to make unnecessary fuss by adding unneeded intermediates, tools, processes etc. The main point is trust.

Agile is Alive?

On the other hand, many people, and Tyler Hakes is among them, think that Agile is not dead. They believe that what is dead is the word Agile but not the approach and the family of methods.

The point is not that Agile methodology is somehow no longer viable or preferable. But, that people need to stop co-opting the term. Too many companies and teams claim to be “agile” but fail to truly implement a culture shift that it requires.

Tyler Hakes

In fact, we are both hands in favor of this statement as it is fully in line with our vision: too many companies and development teams say they follow Agile principles but they actually do not. They pretend to be agile instead of being agile.

As regards the alleged decrease in the use of Agile as a methodology to manage the software development processes, let’s just google.

Boom, Google shows 16 million of entries in just slightly above half a second. Let’s now try to google the opposite opinion:

We see 10% of the first result here.

The Bottomline

Starting to write this article, we wanted to shed some light on the situation with Agile methodology as we personally see how some of our competitors and friends substitute notions. They do use what Allen called “a canned thing”, i.e. they invite Scrum/Lean/XP trainers to teach their personnel, they open new positions for such roles as Scrum Master, Product Owner etc. But at the same time they preserve that rigid and inflexible structure and organization which are adherent to the old traditional, and strictly controllable, Waterfall methodology.

Our vision is that if you claim to be agile, you need to work in an agile manner, what means in a flexible and adaptive way, in order to respond to emerging challenges, requirements, and needs. If you are not flexible, you won’t survive. That’s, we believe, is the main idea of Agile. And we will 100% stick to it.

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