Is Agile a management fad? Is its blistering adoption throughout the world rooted in a proven value driven approach or the hysteria of the masses clamoring for a new trend to profit from and identify with?
Fad – defined
According to Wikipedia a management fad has certain characteristics. Let’s look through these defining elements and see if Agile can fit this definition.
1. New Jargon for Existing Business Processes? Seems that there are plenty of examples that fit this like:
Manifesto = Mission
User Story = Requirement
Planning Poker = Estimating
Daily Scrum = Daily 15 minute meeting
Scrum Master = Coordinator/Facilitator with no authority.
2. External Consultants Who Specialize In the Implementation of the Fad. Would anyone deny that agile has these in abundance? Agile consultants are everywhere and firms specializing in agility are in no short supply.
3. A certification or appraisal process performed by an external agency for a fee. Yep. Many of these exist. Although they don’t all agree with one another on the merits for earning that certification, CSM, CSP, PMI-ACP, and the icAgile body of certifications represent a diversity of vehicles for achieving formal certification.
4. Amending the job titles of existing employees to include references to the fad. There could be room for debate on this one, but a short search on monster.com or dice.com show a plethora of ‘agile project manager’ versus ‘project manager’ positions. Equally, we’ve seen software developers that specialize in agile practices now called “ninjas” and there is the “agile scrum coach” that now replaces the old title “application development manager”.
5. Claims of a measurable business improvement via measurement of a metric that is defined by the fad itself. Velocity is the most prominent measure that comes to mind. Further velocity is defined in increments the fad defines: story points.
6. An internal sponsoring department or individual that gains influence due to the fad’s implementation. Organizational Agile Coaches, or an Agile Center of Excellence are two examples that have become common.
7. Big words and complex phrases. This one is kind of subjective, but YAGNI might quality. SolutionsIQ even published an agile glossary so you can keep up with all the terms & definitions.
Fad? Yes. Value? Yes.
So by this definition agile is, well,…a fad. But does that mean agile practices have no value? Here’s some of the things we’ve learned ( or re-learned ) from agility:
1. Daily communication among team members really matters when the work is complex.
2. The people doing the work must be accountable for it. Don’t let them hide behind a project manager. Let them take pride in what they do.
3. Requirements require constant communication, clarification and understanding. It’s a continuous phase communication cycle, not a document.
4. Regular, timely feedback on work improves quality and job satisfaction.
5. Teams need help coordinating, facilitating and communicating between themselves and others.
Agile’s popularity is still growing. Clearly some of us see benefit even as the marketing machine twists agility into something it never really was or will ever be. Like management fads before it ( Six Sigma, TQM, and CMMI ) agile has made an impact on how we create value.
Is there a cult following? Of course. Everyone likes being popular and making money. But the end state of the agile bubble will be a reconciliation back to reality. There’s no silver bullet. Problems still exist and we’re never fast or perfect enough for the shareholders or customers. Room for improvement is omnipresent.
The fever pitch of the fad is a beacon. Full value has been realized, copied, marketed and redistributed without concern for the result. While time exists and there is still competitive advantage…the crowd still gathers. But, the drivers of innovation have long moved off the curve of agility, hybridizing and envisioning new methods and tools for further improvement. Another wave will again crest and break onto the shores of software management and leadership bringing the promise of ultimate productivity and quality, but delivering only incremental improvement.