A sinking ship?

Is Agile dead? The state of affairs in Agile

Sinking image via Shutterstock

In the spring of 2014, Dave Thomas blogged about the death of Agile. Now Andrew Hunt, another original author of the Agile Manifesto, has expressed his concerns for the current state and failure of Agile.

Agile work, agile teams, agility. The grammatical problem with Agile – that is, the development of the adverb of the adjective to noun – expresses what Agile Manifesto authors Dave Thomas and Andrew Hunt believe has now happened to the practice in the IT industry today.

The title of his blogpost outlines his thoughts quite clearly: The Failure of Agile.

Hunt’s recent post states that the scale of flexibility often portrayed via the principles of agile software development are now a meaningless collection of aphorisms and marketing slogans. A variety of consultants and consulting firms rarely bother to adhere fully to the iterative approach says Hunt, and what they do attempt to follow in the practice is executed poorly.

Looking at the purpose of “inspect and adapt”

For Hunt, the basis of an agile approach is to embrace change. Instead of taking the abstract principles of the Agile Manifesto within daily teamwork seriously, the same set of tools and methods have been usurped by agile “zealots”, where rules are strictly followed and executed.

Beginners taking on a new programming language or methodology are said to only be effective when doing so by following simple, context-free rules. “When this happens, do that”. However, in order to embrace change and “inspect and adapt” to situations and circumstances, beginners are often unable to comply due to their lack of experience.

Following rules is simpler, easier, safe.

What happened to the idea of ​​inspect and adapt? What happened to the idea of ​​introducing new practices, of evolving our practices to suit the challenges at hand?

According to the developers of the Manifesto, teams need to identify, analyse and customise the product and project structure when encountering different problems and challenges. Agile is an attitude, not a rule. The fact that this is not necessarily new knowledge seems to be less and less present in teams who claim to “do” agile. Hunt leads back to the problem of mediation, highlighting the fact that agility isn’t just a mere idea to him.

Beginners get the short end of the stick

The concept of “inspect and adapt” presupposes a good deal of know-how and a high degree of prudence. Beginners can’t decide how the product must be adjusted due to changes in the market, the company, or the stakeholders; they lack the expertise to identify relevant factors and the vision for the project environment as a whole.

And since agile methods conveniently provide some concrete practices to start with, new teams latch on to those, or part of those, and get stuck there.

The failure of agile therefore begins with the failure of the mediation of agility. Specific rules and specific agile market tools and methods are replacing, according to Hunt, an individual’s ability to adjust to new problems and lack the experience, mental models and overall ability to do so:

So instead of looking up to the agile principles and the abstract ideas of the agile manifesto, folks get as far as the perceived iron rules of a set of practices, and no further.

So, it’s time for new principles, new ideas and new models!

The GROWS Method

Where Dave Thomas left off with a good dose of optimism on reclaiming what it means to work with agility, Hunt goes a step further. While “Agile” has suffered another traumatic blow from one of its founders, Hunt has already dedicated himself to a subtle rescue effort with his colleague Jared Richardson. A new name and a new approach is on the cards.

With the GROWS Method (Growing Real-World Oriented Working Systems), Hunt and Richardson have designed a new paradigm with new images for new impulses. The language of the process is critical to its relevance. Therefore, when talking about software development, construction and design are terms that are too deterministic and linear.

The choice to focus on “growth” is no happy coincidence. “Growing is a better metaphor, because with growth comes change”. As a graduation from the “inspect and adapt” technique, four new foundation ideas have been emphasised:

  1. Evidence-based
  2. Dreyfus Skill Model
  3. Local Adaptation
  4. All-Inclusive

What does this mean? Firstly, participants of the method are to analyse and adapt when receiving incremental feedback. Above all, it comes down to a substantial and continuous confrontation between teams implementing this method and the outside world.

Backing up the methodology

And now for the kicker: Instead of building further on the “inspect and adapt” method, Hunt and Richardson have chosen to reflect the different skills and development potential in each team via the Dreyfus Skill Model. This educational and research-based model, developed in the early 1980s, predicts that learners have to first walk through a series of skill-levels before they have gained a comprehensive view of the project in their environment.

It also includes an individual assessment of what adjustments should be made to the specific local conditions. Lastly, the GROWS Method follows an extensive all-inclusive principle. Isolated improvements, for example, meant only for developers or sponsors, are not accepted:

There is no “us” versus “them”. There is only us.

Both Hunt and Richardson recently introduced the new approach at the TriAgile Conference in North Carolina. GROWS labels itself as “an empirical, anti-fragile, pragmatic and evolutionary approach for the 21st century.”

Whether this new method presents new opportunities for agility is yet to be determined. Hunt has announced further blog entries to take a closer look at each specific principle of the framework, which will help shed some more light on their creation.

To find out more about the GROWS Method, check the official website here.

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