“Agile” Is Much More Than a Software Development Process

19 Aug

I’m intrigued, bored, encouraged, and discouraged all at once: not to mention optimistic and sceptical.  How’s that for a confused and mixed up kid?

“Ok matey! So what the heck are you going on about?”

“Well it’s this agile, agility, Agile, Agility thing.”

“Okaaaay so what is it?”

“Blowed if I know!”

I’m not at all sure that I know what Agile / Agility is.  I think it has its roots in software development approaches including Extreme Programming, which I think I first heard about more than a decade ago.  Does anyone remember the even older RAD or RIP or JAD from the 1980s?  The idea, then, was to use a collaborative, non-bureaucratic, approach to quickly produce software that was seen as fit-for-purpose by its users. Well I think the present agile methods have their roots in that RADish JADish idea of getting software cheaper, quicker, and better by minimising the time and money consumed by the older stage and gate (often misnamed “waterfall”) methods.

From my standpoint, anything that reduces the power of bureaucrats has to be good — just so long as we avoid devolving into chaos.

That’s how I read Agile / Agility: it’s an antidote to toxic bureaucratitis.  It has become much larger than a software development method.  When the principles are applied organisation wide we can expect the following results:

  1. A significant reduction in the use of top down command and control management methods leading to a reduction in toxic bureaucracy
  2. The evolution of collaborative self-managed teams with a skilled project manager as the effort coordinator but not necessarily the commander:  the “commander” is the demands from the work that must be done
  3. More positive pushback through questioning the corporate worth of any project: the catch-cry is “Demonstrate that this idea will give an appropriate, measured, return on investment.”
  4. Through collaboration, the “Them versus Us” syndrome reduces
  5. Products will be fit-for-purpose rather than compliant with out-of-date prematurely frozen requirement specifications
  6. Silos will have holes blasted in their walls: collaboration kills silos and that is a very good thing.  The best way to encourage projecticide is to build silos: so avoid silos
  7. Improved Enterprise Architectures should result from less silo thinking and more integration.  An oft heard question will be “How does/should this product integrate with product x?”
  8. The possibility of continuous process improvement will increase.  Agility requires that we use retrospection: lots of reviews asking, “Is our process working?” as well as “Is the product (heading toward) fitness-for-purpose?”

The points above sound good to me.  In fact compared with the state of most organisations today the points sound positively utopian to the point of being fantasy.

So how do we achieve our utopia from our current dystopia?

Clearly two major factors apply: Cultural change and training. The whole organisation has to change and the staff members will have to become highly trained: not educated: trained.  Out of training comes increased discipline.  Without discipline Agile becomes Tragile.

Without cultural change and training Agile / Agility will remain forever Tragile / Tragility.

Where do we go to find the change agents and the trainers?  I know a terrific bunch of people who can help.  They all work with Software Education Associates Limited.

Posted by John Watson


Posted by on August 19, 2009 in Agile, Culture, Project Management, Quality, Testing


Tags: ,

4 responses to ““Agile” Is Much More Than a Software Development Process

  1. Shane Hastie

    August 19, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    A magnificent summary of what Agility is all about John, the challenge is getting the message across to the world at large.

    My personal feeling is that there is nothing inherently NEW in any of the Agile practices or approaches (I was doing pair programming in 1982, for instance). What is new and useful is the way the Agile brand brings the set of good practices together and provides a framework for discussion and collaboration in teams.

  2. Kevin E Schlabach

    August 20, 2009 at 2:04 am

    Agile in its current form was defined and born by the signature of the Agile Manifesto.

    You are correct that it is familiar to RAD. XP (Extreme Programming) is one flavor of Agile (along with Scrum, Lean, Crystal, DSDM, etc). These flavors are different process and tool approaches to fulfilling on the Agile philosophy. In the last 2-4 years, I have watched them start to converge in many ways.

    Agile’s true roots seem to always point back to Toyota, Lean Manufacturing, and Deming.

    For a constant stream of agile information and community direction, I would point you to, or the Agile Alliance. If you want to “get” agile in under a week, I’d suggest going to the Agile 2009 conference in Chicago next week.

    Kevin E. Schlabach

    • John watson

      September 9, 2009 at 7:49 pm

      Hello Kevin,
      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I would seem that we think alike on the origins of”Agile” particularly as regards Deming.

      I guess you are thinking of the Shewart cycle (PDCA) that was refined by Ishikawa.

      One of my colleagues, Shane Hastie, has just been at Agile 2009. His blogs about the conference are on this site.

      To my way of thinking, there is already a growing group of “Agile” cognoscenti. It disturbs me that there also seems to be group of “Agile Fanatics” who are hell-bent on converting all infidels.

      The big question is how do the cognoscenti sell Agile to suitable Agile novitiates and at the same time discourage the fanatics.

      You and I and thousands of others already think or even live Agile: but how do we convince all levels of “Huge Corporation” that they might benefit from Agile.

      I ask this question because Agile affects the whole business not just part of the business just as Six sigma, Lean,

  3. Kevin E. Schlabach

    September 10, 2009 at 1:17 am

    Well, I unfortunately wasn’t able to go to the agile conference this year, but it seems that this was the focus this year… Mike Cottmeyer has been focusing heavily on Agile across the enterprise (along with Agile in PMI)… you should follow his blog to find more people thinking like this!


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