7 min read

“We’re Agile”.

That’s the kind of phrase I would expect from a football team, a troupe of ballet dancers or maybe a martial artist. Everytime I hear it come from the mouth of a software professional, I go like “Oh boy, not again!”. So here I am to talk about something that might touch a nerve or two, of an Agile fan. I’m talking about whether you should be abandoning agile once and for all!

Okay, so what is Agile?

Agile software development is an approach to software development, where requirements and solutions evolve through a collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams, as well as the end user. Agile advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and a continuous improvement. It also encourages a rapid and flexible response to change.

The Agile Manifesto was created by some of the top software gurus on the likes of Uncle Bob, Martin Fowler, et al. The values that it stands for are:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Apart from these, it follows 12 principles, as given here, through which it aims to improve software development. At its heart, it is a mindset.

So what’s wrong?

Honestly speaking, everything looks rosy from the outside until you’ve actually experienced it. Let me ask you at this point, and I’d love to hear your answers in the comments section below.

Has there never been a time when you felt at least one of the 12 principles were a hindrance to your personal, as well as team’s development process?

Well, if yes, you’re not alone. But before throwing the baby out with the bathwater, let’s try and understand a bit and see if there’s been some misinterpretation, which could be the actual culprit. Here are some common misinterpretations of what it is, what it can and cannot do.

I like to call them:

The 7 Deadly Sins

#1 It changes processes

One of the main myths about Agile is that it changes processes. It doesn’t really change your processes, it changes your focus. If you’ve been having problems with your process and you feel Agile would be your knight in shining armor, think again. You need something more than just Agile and Lean. This is one of the primary reasons teams feel that Agile isn’t working for them – they’ve not understood whether they should have gone Agile or not. In other words, they don’t know why they went Agile in the first place!

#2 Agile doesn’t work for large, remote teams

The 4th point of the Agile manifesto states, “developers must work together daily throughout the project”. Have you ever thought about how “awesome aka impractical” it is to coordinate with teams in India, all the way from the US on a daily basis? The fact is that it’s not practically possible for such a thing to happen when teams are spread across time zones. What it intends is to have the entire team communicating with each other on a daily basis and there’s always the possibility of a Special Point of Contact to communicate and pass on the information to other team members. So no matter how large the team, if implemented in the right way, Agile works. Strong communication and documentation helps a great deal here.

#3 Prefer the “move fast and break things” approach

Well, personally I prefer to MFABT. Mostly because at work, I’m solely responsible for my own actions. What about when you’re part of a huge team that’s working on something together? When you take such an approach, there are always hidden costs of being ‘wrong’. Moreover, what if everytime you moved fast, all you did was break things? Do you think your team’s morale would be uplifted?

#4 Sprints are counterproductive

People might argue that sprints are dumb and what’s the point of releasing software in bits and pieces? I think what you should actually think about is whether what you’re focusing on can actually be done quicker. Faster doesn’t apply to everything. Take making babies for example. Okay, jokes apart, you’ll realise you might often need to slow things down in order to go fast, so that you reach your goal without making mistakes. At least not too many costly ones anyway. Before you dive right into Agile, understand whether it will add value to what you do.

#5 I love micromanagement

Well, too bad for you dude, Agile actually promotes self-driven, self-managed and autonomous teams that are learning continuously to adapt and adjust. In enterprises where there is bureaucracy, it will not work. Bear in mind that most organizations (may be apart from startups) are hierarchical in nature which brings with bureaucracy in some form or flavor.

#6 Scrum saves time

Well, yes it does. Although if you’re a manager and think Scrum is going to cut you a couple of hours from paying attention to your individual team members, you’re wrong. The idea of Scrum is to identify where you’ve reached, what you need to do today and whether there’s anything that might get in the way of that. Scrum doesn’t cover for knowing your team members problems and helping them overcome them.

#7 Test everything, everytime

No no no no…. That’s a wrong notion, which in fact wastes a lot of time. What you should actually be doing is automated regression tests. No testing is bad too; you surely don’t want bad surprises before you release!

Teams and organisations tend to get carried away by the Agile movement and try to imitate others without understanding whether what they’re doing is actually in conjunction with what the business needs. Now back to what I said at the beginning – when teams say they’re agile, half of them only think they are. It was built for the benefit of software teams all across the globe, and from what teams say, it does work wonders! Like any long term relationship, it takes conscious efforts and time everyday to make it work.

Should you abandon Agile?

Yes and no. If you happen to have the slightest hint that one or more of the following are true for your organisation, you really need to abandon Agile or it will backfire:

  • Your team is not self-managed and lacks matured and cross-functional developers
  • Your customers need you to take approvals at every release stage
  • Not everyone in your organisation believes in Agile
  • Your projects are not too complex

Always remember, Agile is not a tool and if someone is trying to sell you a tool to help you become Agile, they’re looting you. It is a mindset; a family that trusts each other, and a team that communicates effectively to get things done. My suggestion is to go ahead and become agile, only if the whole family is for it and is willing to transform together.

In other words, Agile is not a panacea for all development projects. Your choice of methodology will come down to what makes the best sense for your project, your team and your organization.

Don’t be afraid to abandon agile in favor of new methodologies such as Chaos Engineering and MOB Programming or even go back to the good ol’ waterfall model.

Let us know what you think of Agile and how well your organisation has adapted to it, if has adopted it. You can look up some fun discussions about whether it works or sucks on Hacker news:

Read Next

What is Mob Programming?

5 things that will matter in application development in 2018

Chaos Engineering: managing complexity by breaking things


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I'm a technology enthusiast who designs and creates learning content for IT professionals, in my role as a Category Manager at Packt. I also blog about what's trending in technology and IT. I'm a foodie, an adventure freak, a beard grower and a doggie lover.

2 COMMENTS

  1. At the start:
    > Working software over comprehensive documentation

    Then when talking about communication in scrum dev team:
    > Strong communication and documentation helps a great deal here.

    Stopped reading there.

  2. Thanks for your comment, webdev.

    When I said that strong communication and documentation is needed, I was speaking in the context of larger and remote teams. Agile does not promote “no documentation”, rather, it encourages the “right documentation”. There is some bit of documentation that does play an important role in allowing such remote teams to communicate.

    One reason why I categorized them as the 7 deadly sins, is because the principles tend to get misinterpreted – we often end up either including or excluding something, rather than finding a middle ground to work on.

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