What Next for the Agile Community?

What Next for the Agile Community?

[From the Archive: Originally posted at Amplify.com 6 Aug 2010]

[Update: Dave’s original post no longer available online – there is a copy at agilevoices]

Whereas I disagree in large part with Dave Nicolette’s full blog post – which I have excerpted (below) – I applaud the sentiments expressed in said excerpt.

Specifically, I profoundly disagree with his assertion that Agile has “crossed the Chasm”. Certainly many organisations have been and continue to dally with it, but the number that have taken it to heart in a *sustainable* way are few indeed (and even yet fewer in Europe and the UK).

My applause for the excerpted sentiments stems from my sharing Dave’s view that “we” (the Agile community) have indeed lost sight of process issues and even more, people issues, particularly “in the large” i.e. across the organisation.

Worse yet, few in the community (Dave included?) have yet realised that the root cause of failure to sustain agile adoptions has been, and will continue to be, not realising the nature of the challenge we face (of which I have written recently, elsewhere: [link – TBD] ).

Amplify’d from dnicolet1.tripod.com

In my view, there are three broad areas in which IT work was completely dysfunctional throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and problems in these areas gave rise to various attempts at improvement, including agile:

  • Process issues – The mechanics of taking ideas from concept to cash.
  • Human issues – Job satisfaction, commitment, motivation, enjoyment, and work-life balance.
  • Technique or (as we would say it today) software craftsmanship – doing work that teaches us something and in which we can take pride.

We have lost sight of these areas of focus (with some notable exceptions) and have become distracted by the attempt to perfect specific activities for their own sake. This is not a proposal for 90 minutes of congratulating ourselves. I think we need to figure out which way we want to take “agile” thinking from this point forward…if anywhere.

Read more at dnicolet1.tripod.com

– Bob

4 comments
  1. I would like to comment on this sentence: “Worse yet, few in the community (Dave included?) have yet realised that the root cause of failure to sustain agile adoptions has been, and will continue to be, not realising the nature of the challenge we face.”

    When you say ‘we’ – is that ‘we’ on the adoptions (instances), or ‘we’ as thought leaders that have failed to guide the community to the correct realizations… I’m guessing the latter. And I don’t really believe it is possible either way on a grand scale, despite the internet and what it has enabled. This is from my personal experience:

    I have found that for my own enlightenment, it has taken the following:
    1. having intense dissatisfaction with status quo,
    2. having the $$ to pay to go to conferences such as AYE Conference — which facilitated really understanding that I had #1.
    3. having $$ to buy LOTS of books [Gerald Weinberg’s books are a great place to start – where I started, largely]
    4. having the passage of enough career time (say 20 years) leading to less worry about job security/retirement due to greater equity
    5. having kids grow up leading to more time to network with like-minded people and mentors through Linkedin, Twitter, meetups, unconferences – and more time to read books, blogs and follow thought leaders on the internet.

    This stuff doesn’t come from just reading the Agile Manifesto, Scrum guides and being on an Scrum project, although that may be enough for some under certain circumstances. For me it took awareness, time, openness to discovery, as well as disciplined study of the history of the structures of business, manufacturing, Lean and Theory of Constraints, to name a few. I have added human interaction/communication/motivation/coaching/influence topics into the reading mix as well.

    In sum, it is a very, very personal journey. As Bob said this morning in a tweet: ‘The world is not, as some suppose, filled with people desperate to learn. It is filled with people desperate to survive.’ I think that describes my early career years, most definitely: daily entry into ledger of all expenses every day for the first 5+ years of my career, at least. In later years, it was the generation squeeze with a mother who had Alzheimers.

    People will come to realizations when circumstances converge to allow that information in… at least that is the way it was for me. I think we can catch a few people earlier if they are open to that learning… And if it can happen on entire teams and within organzations, miracles can happen.

  2. Andrea, many thanks for your comment/question.

    In using “we”, I was referring to the Agile Community at large. I concur that seeing the bigger picture is challenging, and everyone comes to some kind of realisation in their own time, if at all. Maslow placed survival at the base of his Hierarchy of Needs for a reason. :} But we old(!) folks can help things along a tad, I believe, given a certain sensitivity and a certain awareness of human nature, and the forces you describe.

    HTH

  3. It seems to me most of the thought leaders have continually said “We are uncovering better ways of developing
    software by doing it and helping others do it.” So in that sense of ‘we’, I disagree: we are still trying to understand the problem and solve it as best we can.

    In another real sense, the community as a whole, which is significantly larger than just the thought leaders, does not see, or has the goal just to survive, or is just using this to get ahead/make more money (probably related to just surviving), etc.

    In this larger sense, people are solving the minimum required to not be crushed by the system they are in, they hope. It will become popular to solve the problem of business and IT communicating with each other effectively, but technical improvements will slow to a crawl. IT will be popular for fixing the infrastructure issues solved by bad technology, and business value creation will slow to a crawl. Then we will centralise Dept. X to get rid of the cost in duplicating without understanding when and where the slow down of a central group is cost effective, and where it is not.

    Maybe you are correct in saying we do not understand the nature of the problem. And maybe the problem is we are trying to solve things in a context that should be simplified. Can we really make a 200,000+ employee organization efficient? Can we really fix local issues globally? All the local entities will affect the global but can a common solution be applied globally?

  4. Bob,

    Rather than disagreeing with you about whether “agile” has crossed the chasm, I will just say that I understand your point of view about what it means for an idea to cross the chasm. I don’t expect “agile” will ever be fully understood, embraced, and applied by the majority of organizations in a way that the “agile” community would find satisfactory. What has happened, however, is that the buzzwords associated with “agile” have been subsumed into the general lexicon of corp-speak, and they are tossed around without any regard for their intended meanings. Unfortunately, I think that’s really all that happens when an idea crosses the chasm. What do you expect from Late Majority Adopters and Laggards, anyway? If they could do better, they wouldn’t be Late Majority Adopters and Laggards.

    As for the question of whether “we” understand the challenge “we” face, if you mean that “we” don’t fully appreciate the challenge of driving “agile” adoption to the level that it would satisfy an optimistic concept of crossing the chasm, then the answer is both yes and no. Yes, I appreciate the scope of that challenge; no, it isn’t my challenge. To me, “agile” adoption isn’t a goal. My goal is to help organizations learn how to solve their own problems effectively. “Agile” provides a very useful set of ideas and methods that are often applicable, but “agile” adoption is not a goal in itself, nor is it the “be all and end all” of solutions.

    Dave

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