Agile development – a good idea so often badly implemented!

20 May

I am reposting this, as I stand by my original assertion – that Agile requires real leadership skills.

I had a good giggle reading these two articles, here and here, and then finding this one referencing Flaccid Scrum  – by Martin Fowler.


The other day I got something from Carahsoft about a seminar on agile development. The Federal government has been pushing this for some time, so it is curious as to why Carahsoft decided to have a seminar. Regardless this happens to coincide with a number of other discussions regarding Agile approaches. It is interesting that there is still significant debate about what agile is and what it means for projects.

I have the following observations and comments that might help shape the debate (should you find yourself in one):

1. It is an approach not a religion! So many people get really wrapped into a particular approach and then feel the need to make sure that everyone follows that particular approach to the letter of the law. I have rarely seen a successful agile implementation work that was not in one form or another morphed to accommodate the particular needs of a project or the organization where it was being implemented. If we think of Agile as an management approach or framework, and less as a prescriptive remedy for development challenges, we are better off. We can be flexible and focus on outcomes and less on the “rules” that a particular methodology espouses. This article is a little old, but it lays things out well, and is a recommended read.

2. Agile can leave you vulnerable – it requires confidence and leadership! At some point, one has to accept that one adopts adaptive (same as Agile) approaches because the specific requirements are unknown. One has to have the confidence to say that “we do not know”, and the leadership to convince people that by following a disciplined agile approach, we will reveal the true requirements. This business of not knowing is very unsettling for people. This is especially true of the government space where there is a whole cadre of “business analysts” who exist to specify requirements so the government can contract to have things built. Over time, the role of these business analysts will need to change. This article again by Martin Fowler talks to some of the criticism of Agile approaches not having documentation and appropriate controls.

Lastly it is worth pointing out that adoption of Agile approaches often requires a cultural change for an organization. There are three ways that change can occur: from the top; bottom up – organically at the grass roots level; or externally imposed. In the government space this last one is more common perhaps than in the commercial space. Regardless of how change occurs, it always requires leadership to create the right environment for change. At the end of the day, this is often the largest hurdle.

The agile manifesto has key tenets of Agile approaches


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: