As a manager who entered software engineering as the agile movement was gathering pace and returned to management in the systems world, I find it amusing when other disciplines jump on the bandwagon as it were. I also find it encouraging, but I would have serious concern if it were my business and here is why:
- Agile is not what journalists say it is
In much the same way that we probably misinterpret and ingratiate many movements, Agile is credited with a lot of stuff that was never thought of, never intended and for the most part never happens.
A bunch of software engineers (several in several places) to decide how they could “take back control” of the software process in business. They knew the power they held in their hands, but could see more and more of it ebbing into middle and senior management determined to make them “blue collar”. At the same time service businesses like IBM and Microsoft were looking for ways to reduce the paperwork and improve communication in the software transaction. The two things were married and produced a clever, but unruly child that requires careful monitoring and constant praise. Agile was never a strategy, but a bun fight and it is far from over.
2. Fiiddling with KPIs is not changing anything.
In my early days as a marketer I was taught that if you are not meeting KPIs, it is easier to fiddle with the KPI than change your behaviour. This is a fairly universal principal of business and nowhere is it more fitting that the world of software.” I want it and I want it now, but I am not sure what it is and couldn’t communicate it to you even if I did . In any case, what if it doesn’t work?” I’ll claim you didn’t deliver and /or you didn’t do it right. That is the scenario driving software engineers to do away with specifications and contracts and make the product owner responsible. Unfortunately, what they didn’t spot until too late was that in doing this, they sold their souls and became blue collar again, but that’s another story. Now they estimate in Tee-shirt-sizes and look upwards and to the left as they declare how many tee shirts they completed this month. If they don’t like the design they simply say it can’t be done or will cost too much. That is roughly where the tyre meets the road toady
3. A racehorse designed by a vet and an art student will make a very ugly camel at best
I was a product Manager for a few years, it is a natural progression for a marketer turned software engineer and I know some of the best around the globe. Some are redundant and others struggling. Why? Who needs professionals when you have the seat of your pants? I am not suggesting that Agile teams with a nominated Product Owner can’t or don’t produce good stuff, simply that; successful products need a market sized opportunity, or it matters not how good they are, products need to meet an unmet need and to do it so that they are a more attractive proposition that their competitors and so forth.
What I am getting at is this; iPhones are successful because they were driven forward by a brilliant visionary who had the courage to show us what we are missing and make us love iPhones. Bill Gates did this for the PC. In an agile world neither of these products would have happened.
The iPhone would have been an ugly mishmash of half-finished features rushed out to an imaginary deadline and reflecting the current tastes of the Lead developer and the Product Owner, usually in that order. I suspect the PC would have been a typewriter with a glass screen and a coffee cup holder.
- Lying in the water and thrashing your arms about is not swimming.
Anybody who seriously wants to make a change for the better needs to start not with the technology, but with goals, develop strategies and work their way down to the details of how. If that happens to be agile, wonderful, there is then a powerful chance that you will make it work.
- Beware the evangelists, many are trainee terrorists
Understanding the shortfalls of anything is the first sign of expertise and even love. Don’t fall for the preachers they have alternative motives. Somethings and some teams lend themselves well to agile, but not everything and worst of all, when a good agile team has been doing the same thing for a year or so, they are no longer agile, they are simply where they were before with slightly different rules and rituals.
- Agile is a state of mind not a book or a methodology and must be championed and driven form the top down by people who know what they are doing and why they are doing it.