Who does Agile help most?
Agile is an adjective which has been applied in recent years to some software development methods. The term was coined in 2001 by a group of developers seeking to find a more responsive and nimble way to provide good software quickly. The group published principles which were laudable, well-intended, and focussed on customers:
“We have come to value:
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
Working software over comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Responding to change over following a plan
That is, while there is value in the items on
the right, we value the items on the left more.”
The frustrations of working with older methods and tools are fairly clear in the group’s choice of language and perhaps affected their degree of counter-reaction in trying to establish better ones. But, there’s not a lot to disagree with is there? A set of principles I’d happily follow: put the customer first; be responsive; deliver good products quickly; lead and nurture your team. But also remember that there is value in the necessity of plans, tools and documentation.
So what’s gone wrong with Agile? In my experience, It’s become far too common for the final paragraph of the principles to be ignored. The one which reminds readers that there is value in plans, tools and documentation. Software development is a creative activity, one in which new ideas, flexible working and collaboration are essential, but there needs to be some form of effective framework and a clearly understood plan to direct that creativity towards what the customer wants.
How many successful activities in any area of business are you aware of which succeed without a plan which people can understand, and know clearly their responsibilities and role in it? The common Agile artefact of a set of Post-It notes on a wall as a representation of a plan is not the best way to describe, convey and manage the objectives of a project.
Many businesses outside the software industry are now experimenting with Agile tools and methods, and they have of course been a magnet to the legions of Agile consultants who have formed their own industry, workshops, training events, frameworks and quasi-certifications to sell to prospective customers eager to experience this new world. One of the most striking characteristics I’ve observed in this industry of Agile is the extent of zealous polarisation voiced by many of its supporters. The view that “There is only one true way, and it is the Agile way” is of course, nonsense. So who does Agile help most? The Agile industry, or you and your customers?
There are many ways to create, develop and manage new business ideas and activities, and software. Agile is simply one of them. Choose the one which you think is best for your business, your customers and your team, not the one a consultant from the Agile industry tells you is best.