Bang bang bang kerching and take your money
Agility was never supposed to come with a price tag
Agile, at its core, was devised as an intuitively simple approach to software development, predicated on a short list of basic values. Then the marketing and sales people stuck their heads in and, wouldn’t you know it, all that common sense was quickly sandwiched together with a lot of nonsense from people looking to capitalise on the new approach.
Just to refresh you, here are those original values from the Manifesto for Agile Software Development:
Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools
Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation
Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation, and
Responding to Change over Following a Plan
What we have today around “Agile” is conferences, consultants, groups, and big money sales off the back of the methodology. Things that are, according to Manifesto co-writer Dave Thomas, “not too far removed from having conferences about ballet dancing.” As for those groups, he says that, “forming an industry group around the four values always struck me as creating a trade union for people who breathe.”
Thomas poured his irritation with the confused ecosystem that has grown up around the practice in a blog post titled ‘Agile Is Dead (Long Live Agility).’ He declares: The word “agile” has been subverted to the point where it is effectively meaningless, and what passes for an agile community seems to be largely an arena for consultants and vendors to hawk services and products.
So I think it is time to retire the word “Agile.”
But he’s not saying we retire the concept - nobody wants a return to the eighties or nineties development hell - just the deceptive branding around it.
If you look at those values at the top of the page, the ones on the left are those that will help developers who favour the agile approach.
The “consultants and vendors who say they’ll get you started with [Agile]” on the other hand, are more likely to proffer “process and tool heavy” approaches, “with many suggested work products (consultant-speak for documents to keep managers happy).”
An adjustment is in order, Thomas argues. If you want to get back to basics he writes, you can think of “Agile” thought as thus:
What to do:
- Find out where you are
- Take a small step towards your goal
- Adjust your understanding based on what you learned
How to do it:
When faced with two of more alternatives that deliver roughly the same value, take the path that makes future change easier.
And, if someone “comes up with something bigger or more complex,” back away, do not let them pass go, and certainly don’t part with $200.
Ultimately Thomas writes, “We’ve lost the word agile. Let’s try to hang on to agility. Let’s keep it meaningful, and let’s protect it from those who would take the soul of our ideas in order to sell it back to us.”
Of course, it’s a little unfair to say that every “Agile Consultant” out there is a half-baked bandwagon rider. Nor are all training courses and meetups lacking in value for companies looking to adopt agile practices. Sometimes, labels are just helpful - people like having terms to pivot their plans around. The important part is remaining mindful that you’re actually engaging with the ideas behind them, rather than leaning on empty buzzwords.
Regardless of your opinion on Thomas’ critique, it’s definitely worth bearing his words in mind when you’re perusing what’s being sold to you. Are you getting value, or are you being told something antithetical to the fundamentals of the methodology? If it’s the latter, we suggest demonstrating your own innate agility and running the hell away in the opposite direction.
Image by Vijay Bandari