That Agile Stuff Will Never Work

Father Knows BestI was in Washington DC this week for 3 days of Scrum training with Mike Cohn, who conveniently held the class 10 minutes from my parent’s house, so I wound up staying with them. Now, my Dad has been programming since the 1960’s and while he recently retired, he was always amazing at staying up to date with the latest technologies and best practices. And he immediately, on learning the subject of my training, says to me:

“That agile stuff will never work”

“It’s really changed a lot, Dad” I tell him. “They just did a study that showed 69% of companies are using agile.” He shakes his head, unconvinced, “they can make numbers say anything they want.”

So each night, I return from class armed with a new piece of knowledge that I’m sure will win him over.

“Look Dad, we do planning now in Agile,” holding up as proof Mike’s Agile Estimating & Planning book. Agile Estimating and Planning by Mike Cohn“Yeah, but how do you convince customers to enter into agile contracts?” he asks. Having recently lost a prospective new customer because they were too uncomfortable with the fuzziness of our agile contract, I don’t have a good answer for him.

“Look Dad, ” I say the 2nd night, “we do design and testing in agile – it’s not all just hack and slash.” “Yeah, but programmers are introverts, they don’t want to work in teams all day.” Being an introvert myself who admittedly cringes at the idea of spending hour upon hour pair programming, I don’t have a good argument to this one either. I head home having been unsuccessful at winning him over and wondering how much luck I’ll have with my customers and coworkers if I can’t even win my own father over.

When I board the plane I find myself with a middle seat. As I plop myself down with Mike’s agile software development books on my lap, the guy to my right says “hmmm, agile software development.”

Oh great, I think, I have to justify it again, and so I immediately launch into the merits of agile. “Oh, we know” says the woman on my left, “we work in a manufacturing company and we won’t even work with a company unless they’re following  agile methods.

Turns out they’re process managers for the computer division of a big manufacturing company that manufactures iPhones2008-06-That Agile Stuff-assemblyline, Xbox’s, laptops, all sorts of nifty things. “It’s totally unacceptable for a manufacturing company to not follow lean or agile methods,” she explains.

If you’re not using agile methods, you’re spending too much time & money on unnecessary activities that don’t add value. You’re being wasteful with our money, you just can’t do business that way.

And I am convinced, this is the mentality we need to drive home in the software industry. I don’t know all the right answers for agile, but I know we’ve got some very smart folks like Mike Cohn who are out there proving that this can and does work time and again. Every situation is a little different, but they’re giving us success stories on projects of all different types, sizes, and conditions. And agile teaches us that it’s all about continuously learning and improving and then communicating that information so we can all contribute to figuring out how to make this agile stuff work.

See also:
» Writing Contracts for Agile Development for ideas on agile contracts
» Insights You Can Use (Esther Derby’s blog) for ideas on agile teams


5 responses to “That Agile Stuff Will Never Work”

  1. Sorry I accidentally removed my last post, which I only meant to edit. Thanks for sharing this. Your Dad clearly has that experience factor that can be so elusive and important in any new way of doing things, but you also seem to have some of that instinct for seeing things as they are. You don’t seem starstruck by Agile, but you’re not yet ready to discard it, based on the evidence. A bit of idealism combined with the right instinct for what works is a great mix.

  2. Abby Fichtner Avatar
    Abby Fichtner

    Mike, thanks for the note.

    Funny you should use the word starstruck – I’ve been joking that not only did I drink the Scrum kool aid, but I got down and bathed in it. But, it’s true that I’ve never been a big fan of XP, which of course is where a lot agile methods come from. So, I’ve been trying to reconcile that.

    Perhaps I’m just a bit stodgy like the old man “I remember back in the day when we used to program… we’d do it ALONE. None of this PAIR stuff” 😉

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  4. Richard Avatar

    Hi Abby,

    I noticed that broken links on your site have a strikethrough. It looks like it’s automatic, which is really cool. Is that automatic in your blog software or do you have some cool custom hack that does it?

    Thx – Richard 😎

  5. Richard Avatar

    >> I’ve never been a big fan of XP, which of course is where a lot agile methods come from. So, I’ve been trying to reconcile that.

    I think you may be coming to recognize that Scrum is an Agile MANAGEMENT process and XP is an Agile ENGINEERING process. I find that they overlap somewhat and I find that they need each other.

    It’s a kind of badge-of-office, for a techie to have total contempt for the ‘non-productive managers’. Eventually the techie grows up and realizes that *however* good (s)he is, ten merely average programmer’s led by a good manager can do more than our super-hero even in 48hour days.

    Management *is* important. Good management is depressingly rare.

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