Mark Riley, Gary Thornton, DJ Joey Llanos and Larry Levan. Courtesy of Joey Llanos (source: Rolling Stone)
It’s New York City in 1989, Larry Levan is DJ’ing at the Paradise Garage. Phat, deep beats fill the air and sweat drips from the ceiling as 100s of clubbers rejoice in the auditory heaven that the best sound system at the time produces. And Garage music is born.
From an early age, Levan was obsessed with the notion that DJing was a performance, not a series of disconnected tracks but rather a continuous experience involving changes that tell a story. The same can be said of the intention of agile in all its forms.
Fast-forward to the end of the last century; a group of extreme software developers gathered together to discuss the way they were working and to try to formalise their beliefs under a shared banner. And so, in February 2001, these 17 software developers meet at the Snowbird resort in Utah to discuss lightweight development methods. They met because they had a common interest. Just like Larry Levan, they were putting together their accumulated knowledge to form something new, something unique. Agile was born.
Bring yourself back to 2015, as we enter the year ‘agile’ seems to be on every brief that lands in our inbox. Just like Garage music did, the term agile has really crossed over into the mainstream. Crossing over is the price you pay to get more listeners, or in the case of agile, more practitioners. You hear the term ‘sell out’ in music to suggest that the purity and ethos has been lost from the original instigators intention. Here our analogy fails. Agile is a great way to build software and everyone should be doing it. It should be popular. The problem here is that the general population aren’t interested in spending the time to understand or train in Agile. The term is picked up and tossed about by those that don’t really know why Agile is being used, where it came from or how to do it. They just want an agile project, which to them is quick and easy.
Agile has lost its meaning. Just as Garage music lost it’s meaning from those that created it in those hedonistic days back in New York City, now Agile’s meaning is devoid of the practices and rigour that those in Snowbird knew worked. Just like Garage, Agile is (was) a revolution in the way that software is developed.
This isn’t a surprise; as new terms enter the mainstream they lose their meaning. I don’t want to say that novices disrupt the true meaning, but if you call someone a ‘DJ’ long enough despite their lack of skill — the meaning changes. And that’s the problem.
Agile does not have fixed scope or a fixed deadline to deliver that fixed scope. Yet the last few years have seen the rise of briefs asking for exactly that but stating that an Agile approach must be used.
The DJ is playing ‘garage’ but it’s not the Garage DJ Larry Levan created.
Agile got too famous for its own good, and left all those behind who created it. They gave the word additional meaning, but people who don’t understand the fundamentals of Agile use the word without thought.
Interestingly, technical projects don’t seem to fail as often as they used to. A lot of our early work was helping agencies pick-up the pieces from projects that had gone badly wrong. And I think that this change in failure rate is due to better tooling rather than any difference in process. That’s not to say the Agile we know is any weaker, it’s not. It’s a strong process, an excellent way of building a software solution (yes agencies, you do build software) that is not for the faint-hearted. The majority of problem projects we now rescue are based on the agency jamming an agile approach down the client’s throat only to find that contractually they still have to deliver a fixed scope on a fixed date for a fixed cost.
So, now the problem is how to respond to ‘agile’ as an adjective. Weirdly ‘waterfall’ is understood by everyone. Everyone knows that agile should be better than waterfall, it’s newer, shinier, more exciting. Nobody got fired for choosing ‘agile’, it’s the standard.
At Cohaesus we live by the principles of Agile even if we are unable to convert our clients. We eliminate wasteful process and meetings. We constantly reassess the needs of each project and engagement. We aim to get the most value in the least amount of time. Agile is DEAD, long live agile.
Originally published at blog.cohaesus.co.uk.