3 Problems with Age and Popularity

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Tomorrow marks the start of the 11th annual Agile Business Conference in London.  It’s a great conference and it’s the time of year when I generally reflect on what I see happening in the agile community over the course of the last year or more.

It’s interesting to see how the agile movement is changing as it has grown increasingly mature and more popular. Personally I see 3 worrying themes emerging:

1. Many larger companies are still in the relatively early stages of adoption and are trying to roll agile out at scale. Larger organisations often feel they need to layer on more processes to cope with their size, hence the emergence of new frameworks like DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery) from Scott Ambler and SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) from Dean Leffingwell. Although in many ways I like what these frameworks say, and I’m a big fan of Dean Leffingwell’s books, I worry that they introduce a fair bit of complexity and in certain organisations might just take agile back to the over-formalised, bureaucratic and slow-moving project processes we had before.

2. As the earlier adopters get ‘over agile’, they start to drop some of the key disciplines that really made agile work, as their confidence turns into complacency. Ultimately they start to become more chaotic, poorly organised teams with mediocre development practices, suffering from lots of delays and therefore not necessarily being particularly good at delivering good quality quickly, despite being a mature agile organisation.

3. And lastly, as agile continues to take off in the mainstream, there will continue to be an increasing number of companies that can tick the agile box but who do not think in the least bit agile really. This means that poor teams can claim to be doing agile and in reality a poor team doing agile isn’t really any better than a poor team doing waterfall, which could give agile a bad name.

All of these problems are symptoms of agile growing and maturing, but are dangerous in terms of sustaining the values and principles that made agile so powerful and so popular in the first place.