Do You Know Agile as Well as You Think You Do?

Over at the blog Business Analyst Diaries, I came across a this post asking readers what their elevator pitch for agile would sound like. ItÂ’s a fun post, with a few stabs included in his original post and at least one game commenter chiming in, but I think it speaks to a few critical issues for the success of agile. First of all, agile is still neither widely nor clearly understood. And secondly, when it remains vaguely defined or misunderstood, its value isnÂ’t obvious to those who need it most. Hence thereÂ’s a need for a succinct sales pitch.

Let’s start with that first one. Why does agile’s meaning remains so elusive for so many people? In part, I’d argue that’s because agile has no clear definition. It’s an umbrella term applied to many concretely defined methods and frameworks, including XP, DSDM, and Scrum. While those subsets of agile all contain specific principles and processes, agile is simply shorthand for development that uses repeatable iterations to frequently inspect progress and adapt to it, an emphasis on teamwork and self-organization, and an approach to development that closely involves the customer. Still, even that definition leaves out some significant distinctions among the various methods. A better elevator speech would likely focus on what agile techniques yield: Namely, increased product quality, reduced cycle time, and customers who get the products they wanted. Still, that doesn’t really identify how these methods do what they do. For me, the solution is to narrow the scope to what you really want to “sell.” If it’s XP, focus on how XP’s engineering practices enable teams to control costs through a strict attention to quality. If it’s Scrum, talk about how its unique emphasis on self-organization empowers teams to make tough decisions that they believe in. But if you still want to give an elevator speech on agile, you might discover you’re not exactly sure what it is you’re selling…

Posted under Agile Methodology

This post was written by admin on January 13, 2009

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4 Comments so far

  1. admin August 21, 2009 10:43 AM

    Thanks Bryan for your comments. I think the distinction is between agile and Agile.

    Although, some in the industry have tried to make future versions of different agile methods
    (e.g. there was Scrum# by Net Objectives for a while, the thought leaders within Scrum community plainly ignored this effort).

    That being said, I do look at the Scrum Alliance as helping to shape what is and what is not Scrum and although they say that there won’t be versions of Scrum, it will be interesting to see how Scrum is seen from a program management perspective moving forward as the case studies and large scale implementations (500-25,000) began to normalize.

    David Norton at Gartner and Tom Grant at Forrester have started writing about these trends…

  2. Bryan Campbell May 30, 2009 8:25 AM

    I think this is a very valid point. There is no clear definition of “Agile” which makes it difficult to develop a real body of knowledge around its practices. It’s particularly challenging because a number of its thought leaders (Beck, Schwaber, Beedle, Larman, etc) have publically stated that there will not be future ‘versions’ of their processes/methodologies. It also seems to swing between rather concrete engineering practices (Test Driven Development, Continuous Integration, Iterative and incremental development) to broader social components (collaboration, self-directed teams) with a smattering of business analysis and project management techniques thrown in (user stories, prioritized backlogs and burn-downs). I’m always fascinated when I hear people boldly state that they, or their organizations, apply “Agile”, in most cases they apply one or two of the techniques listed above and have little in the way of empirical evidence that things are better.

    Krutchen wrote an interesting piece on this awhile ago which you might find interesting http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1281893 .

  3. admin January 14, 2009 3:42 PM

    Hi, Lokesh. Some of the most successful companies in the world use agile methods to manage their projects. They include Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Amazon, Motorola, Intel, Hewlett Packard, Intuit, AMD, Google, and many, many more… Are developers there happy? You’d have to ask them. But, across the board, developers prefer agile methods because sprints build stretches of stable coding time and the emphasis on self-organization allows them to take more ownership over a project.

  4. Lokesh January 14, 2009 5:57 AM

    Exactly, i have been a developer in one such team following AGILE… and i used to crib about it a lot, because it used to make me work on same functionality over and over adding new piece of codes every cycle.. but when i moved to a higher role, i literally realize what benefits it has for a vendor and client… but i still feel, it is not that mcuh popular way of doing things.. can you please provide me some names of big companys who actually work on it and reaping fruits.. and i will want the name where developers are also happy ;0
    thanks much.. i love ur posts

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