10 Years of Agile

Alistair Cockburn has been organizing a 10 years since the agile manifesto event in Snowbird this coming weekend. 

A majority of the discussion is anticipated to revolve around three questions @  http://10yearsagile.org/join-the-dialog (copied below):

  1. What problems in software or product development have we solved (and therefore should not simply keep re-solving)?
  2. What problems are fundamentally unsolvable (so therefore we should not keep trying to “solve” them)?
  3. What problems can we sensibly address – problems that we can mitigate either with money, effort or innovation? (and therefore, these are the problems we should set our attention to, next.)

Here are my thoughts on this topic.

IMO, I think we’ve solved many of the more micro mechanics of Agile software development (on paper anyway). The challenge remains in regards to application.    

In regards to question number 3, I think we need to start having more of a systems thinking perspective to scaling agile.  The issues in this area are usually not related to process and tools of the Agile space itself but rather human, organizational and change dynamics in the application of Agile.

The Agile Community needs to evolve people who think beyond the current application of  the basic tenants of the Agile Manifesto and apply them and additional thinking the challenge of Agile at scale, IOW, Agile in the Real World.  For instance, perhaps applying a change framework such as the one presented in the Heath Brothers’ book “Switch” to the problem of scaling Agile.  I have written before about coming up with a framework that purports “using Agile to scale Agile”

Agile Coaches for instance should be able to not only instruct and coach teams in organizations on Agile practices but also coach organizations on crafting change programs based on situations that exist in specific organizations.  This requires longer term relationships and interaction with clients.

One of the more disturbing trends I see is that with the rise things like Kanban is that organizations expected a silver bullet with their Agile initiative and when that didn’t’ work they run to what they think the next silver bullet will be.  Don’t get me wrong, I find Kanban and its premises very useful, however, not exclusive of other Agile practices.   We need to get organizations that are moving to Agile to expect some failure and also help them learn what continuous process improvement is.  For some reason folks don’t seem to realize that this is a team skill like anything else, you don’t do it well just because you allocated time for a retrospective.

In this same vein of systems thinking, The Agile Community originally had done a poor job factoring in how to integrate existing PMOs and legacy project management and governance systems  into Agile change initiatives, even Agile pilots.  It was foolish to not have a well thought out plan for how to make allies out of those that would turn out to be one of your most significant “enemies”…look to Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”.  Perhaps now enough has been learned by failure and some success to provide some patterns that can be leveraged to help ally such groups early on.

Whether these problems will be seen as ‘sensible’ or unsolvable I’m not sure, but IMO they are the ones that will impede the success of Agile in the real world and if they are seen as ‘unsolvable’ then we risk seeing limited application of Agile in organizations and by limited I mean both within the IT side and beyond.  Agile thinking can be extended well beyond developing software.


About Mike DePaoli

Mike DePaoli has been contributing to the IT community for over two decades and practicing agile and lean approaches to software development since 1996 in roles from programmer to CTO. His evolved approach to crafting successful lean-agile software development organizations was forged by the meaningful challenges he undertook at prior employers and as an Agile Coach at companies such as eBay, Adobe Systems, AOL, NetApp, Disney, Boeing, EMC, and Trizetto. Mike’s area of expertise is helping organizations craft strategic change initiatives that educate on and establish agile and lean values, principles and practices at every tier of the organization. Mike applies systematic thinking with a multi-discipline approach to his work. Mike is a Certified SAFe Agilist, Certified Scrum Professional, Certified Scrum Master (CSM) and Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO). He is a highly-regarded speaker in the Agile community having spoken at Agile conferences in North America, South America and Europe. He is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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