Integration Watch: The zealots of agile
March 1, 2009 —
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Related Search Term(s): agile
The agile movement has been nothing if not evangelical, even messianic, since its inception. From its founding with the publication of a manifesto (a manifesto!) to its subsequent, continual attack on the so-called waterfall model, agile and its exponents have hewn closely to the position that theirs is the one true path. And, consistent with this evangelical view, those who disagree either don’t really understand agile or are irretrievably deluded. For the deluded, only spectacular failure of their project will open their eyes.
This point of view makes dialog about agile’s strong points difficult and about its weak points impossible. It fails to acknowledge that agile projects also fail and that, prior to agility, many very large software projects came to fruition without using agile techniques. We did, after all, land a man on the moon without agile. We also routed phone calls, conducted the census, flew aircraft, made reservations, and performed many other activities that relied on large-scale software that met requirements and generated valid results—all without agile. Every major operating system in use today was written with pre-agile techniques. So before lecturing on the one true path, it’s important to acknowledge that other paths can indeed generate successful projects. There is not a single true path. There are at least two.
The agile zealot’s take on the successes of the “other” path generally runs along the lines; that’s all well and good, but the vast majority of all software development projects are failures. The presence of some notable successes does not belie the landscape littered with the detritus of dead or abandoned projects.
I am in full agreement. And in fact this argument brings me to my second gripe with agile evangelism. Agile projects fail too. The widely quoted failure rates of projects have barely dropped since the Agile Manifesto. And while the agile movement might want to lay claim to this small drop (and attribute its small size to the fact that so many projects are not agile), I would disagree.