Few Random Reflections on Agile
The ten year mark just passed on the Agile Manifesto. It brought out quite a lot of commentary from the Tribe Elders, and frankly, most of it was depressingly insipid. It reached something of a crescendo for me reading Jim Highsmith‘s piece in Dr. Dobbs, whose digital edition, btw, is surprisingly good! Anyway, he basically said ‘we won, and if what we won ends up getting spoiled, blame the idiots.‘ In some ways, if you close your eyes, you could think you were listening to the Process world‘s Charlie Sheen.
What, exactly was won? If there was a foe that was vanquished, it was either Waterfall or RUP. If we are claiming a 300-style heroic victory at vanquishing Waterfall after a decade of hundreds of books, countless seminars and tons of brainwashing, that‘s pretty sad. Would be like saying ‘if we got Floyd Meriweather to train for a few years and put him in the ring against Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies, we‘d win.‘ Frankly, I could make a Marxist argument: that Waterfall killed itself. Why? Because there is no longer the will to fund the various silos and wait the required time to push things through the various stages. So, maybe Waterfall didn‘t kill itself, it just died because the concepts of cycle time, delivery, etc., have all made Waterfall untenable. Also, for a while, there was the idea that better tools and communication would finally make Waterfall work. That pretty much went out when the bubble burst in 2001. I could go on and on about how stupid Rational was and how badly they blew their opportunity. However, I personally think that Agile in 2011 is looking a lot like RUP was in 2000: a huge gooey amalgalm of different crap, claiming that it is the universal elixir (a la Traffic‘s Medicated Goo).
One of the perennial jokes about the Entertainment Industry is that the people who really make things (writers) are second class and the ruling class are the ones who have mastered getting credit. Every good show that has ever lasted on television in the last 20 years has had excellent writers. There‘s zero chance anyone in the US could name any of them. Software is starting to show symptoms of the same disease. Who should get credit and for what in here? XP has dropped like a stone, no one talks about it anymore, though people do still talk about pairing, but of course, those guys don‘t get credit for that (give Larry Constantine credit if anyone). Scrum was the darling for a while. I like scrum. There are some good ideas in it. But a decade later suggestions like standups and iteration plans don‘t seem like earth-shaking acts of genius. Frankly, Lean is the most compelling of the Agile stepsisters, and I believe variations of it will be the only residual fossils left by this revolution in a few years. That said, there is much work to do with Lean and no one seems very inclined to do it. I thought for a while that Mylyn was going to usher in a new age of minding the VSM and learning more about where energy/time is going, but it went the familiar route: an ounce of success, then it became a commercial venture with a bunch of licensing and wildly ridiculous claims about how it could completely transform the lives of its buyers.
Are we not at the infomercial stage of the process movement? I am glad as hell that I didn‘t decide to stop writing code so I could spend my time going around conferring little Scrummaster Certificates on people who attend a one day course (I think Carpet Installers have a more rigorous certification process), and the overall stench of promotion has spoiled what seemed like a genuinely interesting grassroots movement.
Our team was using Rally for a while. One day, I was on the phone with their project manager. I was saying that we had to track time in some form, and that the tool ought to support it. She apologized that they did not have it, but then made some comments like ‘real programmers don‘t like to have their time tracked.‘ Oh, really? Yeah, well, the corollary to that is real programmers are too gutless to actually practice the first commandment of Lean. Frankly, the most nauseating part of all this victory lap promotional gas is how much it smells like the current political climate: no stomach to do anything tough, 100% of energy expended to make sure that credit is given for a bunch of token accomplishments.
Everyone, in every sector of this culture, has sold out, it should not come as a surprise that the software industry has its version of it. My recommendation to the Agile Industry is try and take some real stock of where you are. It might be time to crawl out into the sunlight..
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