Moving Beyond a Superficial Understanding of Agile | TechWell

Moving Beyond a Superficial Understanding of Agile

If there is a Mount Rushmore of software development methodology, software pioneer Ed Yourdon belongs on the mountain; his thoughts on the first ten years of agile development carry more weight than most. Recently, he was interviewed at the Agile 2012 conference about the state of agile and trends in IT. One of the most important revelations comes from the interviews he conducted for his book CIOs at Work.

The interview revealed that while agile is almost universally hailed, the majority of executives only have a “superficial” understanding of the methodology. In fact, when asked what benefits agile brought to their organization, most executives only listed the ability to “deliver faster.”

This level of understanding by upper management is a serious impediment to the necessary culture change that needs to take place. The companies Yourdon found to have fully embraced the methodology were run by CIOs with technology backgrounds, and agile was integral to these organizations’ culture.

Yourdon points out the first ten years of agile have provided the necessary operational structure—tools, artifacts, etc.—to succeed, but what is missing is the “human element.” This human element is essentially the interaction between teams and between team members. These interactions are primarily based on the company’s culture. These cultural shifts do not happen overnight, especially for older organizations that have embedded a “command and control” mindset.

Yourdon is skeptical that this shift will change until the next generation of CIOs moves into place. On this point I disagree. The market is moving much faster and organizations will have to change in order to compete. They do not have the luxury of waiting for a new generation to take over. Those organizations that do not change quickly will find themselves on the outside looking in.

The software that is most responsive to customer needs will succeed. We have seen this most recently in the mobile phone market. Consider the case of RIM, which once dominated the market but was unable to change their Blackberry product line quickly enough to respond to the iPhone and other smart phones running the Android OS.

At the end of the interview, Yourdon shared his thoughts on where agile will need to go during the next ten years. First, he reiterates the importance of developing human interactions.

Second, he sees agile scaling across organizations. Agile is creating “pockets of excellence,” and these will eventually spread to create excellence everywhere.

Third, Yourdon again emphasizes the necessity of the culture changing through the entire chain of command. This change will be critical to the long-term competitiveness of the organizations. Finally, the overall industry’s movement to global outsourcing will have to be reconciled with agile’s principle of collocation. This is a problem that has not yet been adequately resolved.

How can we find a way to resolve this problem? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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December 13, 2012

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