Agile – An Honest Reflection

Image – George Hodan, publicdomainpictures.net

Following Agile Without Knowing It?

I had this simple question Have we been following Agile for all the successful projects without knowing that we are following Agile.  Here are some thoughts which I would like to share from my experience and would like to know your experiences.

What We Used To Do

When I started writing programs long ago (about 25 years ago) in dBase III Plus I used to directly interact with the business user, who could be an accountant or a supervisor on the shop floor to understand the steps/tasks in the process and build programs to automate those tasks.  It was such an exciting period.  There was no or minimum documentation, only direct interaction and visible deliverables in the form of reports, screens etc.  The only objective was to give what business wants and (more), that would result in great value for them.  Every couple of days, I would build something and show to the user, they test and tell me what is correct and what is not as expected (they start using what is working!).  That way, most of the developers in MIS department used to work with business to get to a point where the user sees maximum value in the given program (only restriction for business was that a developer used to be assigned for a fixed period).  When I compare what we followed years ago to the Agile manifesto, it just resounds.  I am sure there are many who would have experienced the same.

What Do We Measure?

Later in the following years software development, gradually moved into a phase where they started measuring their value by timelines, cost, quality (as per their own definition – bugs, rework etc.) and many other criteria which is more focused to show case development team value.  While this is important, even more important is to measure the business value created by development team which I think is missing in most cases.

Dismal Project Failures

We all know, in spite of several process innovations in the software development, there are less and less number of projects actually successful.  I would provide reference to the latest “Pulse of the profession” from PMI (http://www.pmi.org/Learning/Pulse.aspx) –

Fewer projects are being completed within budget or meeting original goals and business intent. More projects are actually failing and creating significant monetary loss for their organizations.  

Of course, these include all projects (not only software projects).

I do not want to mention about the projects which are not meeting the business intent.  But would like to mention about the projects which are getting successfully delivered and meeting the business intent (which are less of course).  How are these few projects meeting the business intent?  How are they successful?

And Then Came Agile

From my experience, and it is a known fact too that every successful project no matter which methodology is followed, delivered value to business, made customers happy and delighted.  In doing so (in my view), the teams working on successful projects followed Agile manifesto inadvertently.

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

I don’t remember to have come across any successful project which did not follow these.

Spirit of Agile

One example I would like to highlight is from a typical waterfall projects.  How many successful project managers and teams would agree (HONESTLY AGREE) that during the business testing phase, there is more interaction (ignoring the processes, if any, which would impede these interactions), get into seamless collaboration with customer, no or minimum documentation (no time in the first place to document).  Also, during this phase, the team would accommodate majority of the changes to make the business happy and sees value in what is being delivered (of course based on priority).  Agree, all this creates more agony to the people developing software as well as testers who are testing.  But this is the price teams pay for success.

The point I am trying to make is, though in theory, there are successful projects which are not identified as following Agile but in terms of practical purposes any successful project no matter what methodology is followed would have followed Agile Manifesto without knowing that these are Agile.

Please do share your thoughts and experiences.