Agile is NOT a Methodology

Ok. Now we have your attention. Yes, Agile is NOT a methodology. The impetus for this article was that I was recently thrown an article by another Agile coach. He simply asked me what I thought about it. I read it. Digested it. Disagreed with it.

The article was essentially selling Agile as a methodology, using “Agile methodology” buzz words. Wait you say, do we sound like purists? Not really. An easy click over to the AgileManifesto.org tells us that Agile isn’t a methodology at all:

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

Oh, and there are some principles (12) to the manifesto too.

But none of this talks or even looks like a methodology. So this begs the question, “What is Agile methodology?”

Again, Agile isn’t a methodology. The Agile Manifesto doesn’t prescribe anything.

Agile is a framework or frame of mind. You want methodologies and processes?

Here you go:

Wikipedia tells us that Agile is a group of software development methodologies based on iterative and incremental development. Seems straight forward here.

Agile software development is a fantastic way to develop your products or services, it’s the guiding principles and framework that allows teams and businesses to rapidly develop valuable products to their stakeholders or clients.

I had a conversation with Donna Reed about this a little while ago. We talked about using facets of Agile to bring value to a client and using bits and pieces of different methodologies to help put a framework around those Agile values (Find the article here).

I will agree with Donna Reed in that sometimes providing value to a client is not going “all Scrum” or “All ___ (fill in blank). It’s about finding what’s best for your client and taking an Agile approach to providing value. Iteratively, strategically, inspecting, adapting, and learning.

Now that “Agile” is becoming more of a buzz-word around town, remember that when someone starts selling you the Agile methodology, they may not be selling you anything at all. Ask the question. Do your diligence in knowing exactly what they’re talking about.

In summary:

Agile is a framework or frame of mind. A practitioner of Agile can use different methodologies within the framework to “do or be” Agile. Agile is our guiding principles that lay the foundation for building better software.

I also tweeted with several other Agile practitioners about this post to make sure I was sane (@mcottmeyer @derekhuether) and hey, Agile Scout is a Agile news site. We wouldn’t be the good investigative reporters if we didn’t report on this, now would we?

Do I sound like a purist? Let me know in the comments.

81 Responses to “Agile is NOT a Methodology”

  1. Derek Huether
    November 16, 2010 at 11:14 pm #

    I was in a meeting today and someone was telling the vendor that they didn’t like the Agile Methodology they followed during the last period of performance. What is interesting is the vendor, from my perspective, did not following any kind of methodology nor were they following Agile principles (during that period of performance). They hid behind both Agile and the illusion of methods to shove a bastardized process down the throat of the client. For the last year, pretty much every meeting had me telling both the customer and the vendor that what was being offered was anything but Agile.

    It’s rather frustrating when the uninformed are provided misinformation and then scream at the top of their lungs how Agile is not a good methodology. I accept that some people are fixated on using certain vernacular I don’t agree with. It’s my hope that more and more people will understand what Agile IS and what it is NOT.

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 7:10 am #

      Aww man! This was exactly what we’re talking about. Just like the rise of the needed “ScrumMaster/Project Manager” roles popping up all over the place, it’s another selling point for vendors. I hope they get educated soon!

    • Jim Higgens
      November 17, 2010 at 7:30 am #

      http://www.avenuecode.com/
      these guys are a vendor like the one you talk about. do they even know what they’re talking about?

      derek, what are your thoughts?

      • ScoutMaster
        November 17, 2010 at 7:31 am #

        This post is a dupe of the one below on PRweb. Same guys I believe

      • Derek Huether
        November 17, 2010 at 8:31 am #

        Jim, I responded to your comment below. I have serious doubts the person who wrote the content on PRWeb or the Avenue Code website knows what they are talking about. It’s as though they went to a conference, heard the word agile used, and it became the biggest and brightest shiny toy you’ve ever seen.

        Should someone tell them they are wrong or ask them WHY they think they are correct?

  2. Sam
    November 16, 2010 at 11:30 pm #

    This was a much needed post. I am not an Agile coach but as someone who has be using Agile successfully along with PMI, I strongly believe that this distinction needs to be absolutely clear.

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 7:09 am #

      Thanks a lot for the comment. We believe it needs to be stated as well.

  3. Andrej
    November 17, 2010 at 3:44 am #

    hm, and i thought that Scrum is a framework and XP is development practice…

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 7:08 am #

      I believe Ken Schwaber himself even said that Scrum is a framework. Agreed, you can see it as a development framework.

    • RadicalLeverage
      November 18, 2010 at 9:02 pm #

      –Comment Deleted: 76.218.205.160 IP Address Duplicate–

  4. PRWeb
    November 17, 2010 at 7:27 am #

    http://www.prweb.com/releases/avenuecode/3questions/prweb4767714.htm

    Something like this must have you guys pissed…

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 7:28 am #

      Wow. This article is a very sale-pitch influenced post. Looks like they’re selling Agile methodology as well.

  5. Derek Huether
    November 17, 2010 at 8:10 am #

    I just looked at the PRWeb link and then the Avenue Code website. What they are saying is flawed. “Avenue Code helps [them] tackle through an innovative project management and development tool known as Agile Methodology”. What, did Avenue invent Agile and get a trademark on it? It’s not a COTS product! They go on to write “Agile is based on a project management methodology known as SCRUM” No, they got that one wrong as well.

    I’m curious if maybe Zeo Solomon (listed on the PRWeb page) is from the marketing department and also did the website. Regardless, Avenue Code needs to read the Agile Manifesto and perhaps a few books on the subject. We all know all too well what can happen when marketing departments or hiring managers start writing about things they know nothing about. It’s disconcerting to see the Avenue Code website using the term Agile Methodology and then also how they use it.

    Zeo, are you out there? Are you listening? We’re not trying to crucify you. We just want you to get the facts straight.

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 8:28 am #

      As usual, we can count on Derek for the uncut truth. We agree. Selling “Agile methodology” isn’t good practice. They need to be a bit more descriptive around what they actually do.
      Be good to hear what Zeo has to say.

      • Zeo Solomon
        November 18, 2010 at 9:04 pm #

        –Comment Deleted: 76.218.205.160 IP Address Duplicate–

    • Mark N.
      November 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm #

      zeo@avenuecode.com
      http://twitter.com/avenuecode/
      http://www.linkedin.com/in/zeosolomon

      You can contact him directly if you’d like, Derek.

      What I can’t stand about these Agile Shops popping up all over the place is that they have no idea what the hell Agile even means. This article is a great standard article to read (aside from agilemanifesto.org) and gives a clear picture of what Agile is away from all the other methodologies.

      Considering this guy actually “worked” on Agile projects before, it’s a shame that he can’t explain it that well. Makes you wonder whether those projects were even successful or not.

      While I’m not dogmatic about how you want to call “Agile,” I believe that selling people a bag of goods as a consultancy is not a good way to go at all. I’m guessing people get what they pay for. If they buy a consultant who doesn’t know jack, then that’s what they’ll get.

      Keep up the good work AgileScout whoever you are. You keep us up to date with the NONSENSE out there. These guys at avenuecode kill me.

      • ScoutMaster
        November 17, 2010 at 5:54 pm #

        Thanks for the props. We try to keep things going. Glad this conversation has elicited how you “really feel” about it all. We didn’t know these guys existed, but now we do. Thanks for the heads up.

        • Mark N.
          November 17, 2010 at 6:01 pm #

          AgileScout – How I “really” feel is due to experience as a FTE who has had “Agile consultants” come in and make hell out of our work-environment. They neither had skill nor expertise. I know some GOOD Agile consultants, but my company paid for crap-consultants like the aforementioned above.
          My two-cents.

    • julio
      November 17, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

      Avenue code is a joke. Leave them alone.

      • ScoutMaster
        November 17, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

        ***Let’s give Avenue Code a break. Please keep comments to the blog post***

    • Poole
      November 17, 2010 at 11:28 pm #

      Derek,

      I wouldn’t worry about those guys. Whether they take your advice or not (read and learn) their site tells us enough about them. Btw they misspelled “requirements” on their lifecycle picture.

      The bigger issue is possibly the lack of correct education these guys are learning from. We all want to make a buck, these guys are selling half-baked agile.

      Sites like agilescout.com help with the education. And so does yours. Guys like you and agilescout keep the ideas fresh and information flowing to the community.

      You guys are helping combat the ignorance. My commendation to you. Thanks for your voice and speaking up. We need more honesty and transparency in this world of ours!

      • ScoutMaster
        November 17, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

        Thanks for the encouraging words. For all those out there, make sure to check out http://www.thecriticalpath.info to see more of Derek’s “honesty.” :)

        Both Derek and AgileScout.com provide content to the community for exactly that purpose: To Educate.

        Thanks!

  6. Wiredworx
    November 17, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    What a great article!!

    We have been trying to enforce this point at work for a long time at work (a University) and sometimes it is difficult to get it across. We run as an agile development team, but we have found that our customers (other departments within the uni) find it very difficult to grasp (leads to the question – does it even need to be pigeon holed??).

    It’s even more interesting when you start to throw other concepts such as Kanban into the mix. You can almost see the steam coming out of their ears…!

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 9:24 am #

      Thanks! We’re glad it helps iron out some of the wrinkles in peoples understandings!

      Hope you can point your team in this articles direction!

  7. Mike Boumansour
    November 17, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I agree a poorly conceived and worded article. While there is some truth to some of the things they say there are certainly some notable inaccuracies. The Scrum Master is responsible for the Sprint Backlog? Hmmmm that is about as off base as you can get.

    • ScoutMaster
      November 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

      Yes. We caught that too. We’d be interested in seeing where they go these reference points from…

    • RandyG
      November 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm #

      Wow. I feel bad for missing the party. Went to the avenue code website and they push near-shoring. Isn’t that whole idea anti-agile? You know, close teams working together?

      • ScoutMaster
        November 17, 2010 at 9:23 pm #

        Thanks for letting us know. Don’t hear a lot about near-shoring these days… or maybe it’s just me. I don’t pass that term a lot. Interesting concept. I agree, not too Agile.

  8. Zeo Solomon
    November 18, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    I feel almost flattered that most of you have singled out Avenue Code as the company that coined the term Agile “Methodology” instead of “Framework;” thus violating nine years of pure Agile Practice. Instead of responding to all the caustic accusation about our choice of words in our website, I’d rather get back to the points made in the referenced article. Although I agree with some of the points, I find other ones rather arguable.

    If some of you did take the time to look at the website, you would have noticed that we do not practice any rigid or cookie cutter approach to software development. Our technique is modeled after Dr. Edwards Deming’s Lean Supply Change Management principals [http://logistics.about.com/od/qualityinthesupplychain/a/TQM.htm]. We map an IT organization’s Value Line (each step taken from idea to revenue), then we apply natural inventory points throughout the entire value stream – in the software development world, a single business feature equates to a unit of
    inventory.

    We call that value stream mapping – a process that creates a system-wide on self-correcting mode, allowing the system to measure its performance, and continuously improve based on periodic findings. It also allows the system to find ways of speeding its pace of delivery – or, in other words, becomes Agile.

    We believe that the outcome of this exercise provide a system (or a company) with their best suited Agile Practice. Now call that methodology a scrum, a waterfall, or spaghetti marinara, we certainly do not care what it’s called, the concept and the exercise to get there is what matters.

    While I agree with the writer’s definition of the Agile practice in its simplest form, I find his wordsmith distinctions a bit extreme and yes, purist. For instance, the word “Framework” implies “enclosure” in its own merit. An Agile Framework is almost an oxymoron. While methodology is not the best word to use either, it’s more common and understood term among those who are not familiar with “Agile” all together (yes, you can file that under a more familiar marketing term). Additionally, the term may not be as misplaced as the write makes it seem, look at the definition of METHODOLOGY according to Oxford American dictionary:

    “a system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity – example: a methodology for investigating the concept of focal points”

    This jives very well with the writer’s definition of the Agile practice and our own Value stream modeling practice as well.

    Lastly, for those of you who keep referencing back to the Agile manifesto, while I have all respect for the Manifesto and its authors, the strength of a guideline is in its inherent ability to reform and refine its views and teachings with time using the collective consciousness of those who are using it.

    The fact that many believe the 10 year old Agile Manifesto is the end all be all reference to all the Agile practices goes against the most fundamental meaning of the word Agile.

    • ScoutMaster
      November 18, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

      Zeo – Thanks a bunch for answering the call man! There are plenty of opinions out there. As I wrote you before, I’m sure that you’re doing your best to build up the Agile community of practice. Best to you!

      • Poole
        November 19, 2010 at 8:14 am #

        Is this guy serious? He is still throwing out marketing and sales crap.

        Zeo should just own up to the fact that his website makes him and his company look clueless about agile.

        • RandyG
          November 19, 2010 at 8:24 am #

          Agreed. Since the website was probably written and developed by Zeo he is the ignorant one about agile.

          —DELETED COMMENT—
          Randy, keep it kosher. Thanks. – ScoutEditor

  9. AR
    November 19, 2010 at 11:38 am #

    It is rather interesting how people get so fired up over this subject. And the expressed opinions are about choice of words, methodology or framework. And then the insults starts to fly.

    Think about it, sometimes when you interview and hire someone, it takes couple of months to truly know how good, or not so good a person work and ability is. Here the judgment is rendered over couple of words.

    In this blog, I see some people not everyone, using all kinds of negative terms and insults over simplest things. All you are presenting is that you are someone rather junior who is using insult to show his/her superiority (so he/she thinks).

    In fairness, some of the points were valid, the PR doc one line in it was not right. And I am sure they will fix it, considering the abuse they received in this blog.

    I have worked with Mr. Solomon on and off for over 10 years. He is one of the smartest people I have met in the valley with deep insight on how to work with clients and make things happen. I have seen him transform organizations into a lean value driven entities. Yes I am coming to his defense because I have professionally worked with him. Hence I do know much more than the ones, who sent the unnecessary comments.

    Those of you who feel so righteous should know better, that you are not perfect. And not perfect in implementing the tools/framework/methodologies that is agile. It is not supposed to be perfect after all. Hence the ability to change quickly.

    As for nearshore complains. If it was left to me I would not do none of the nearshore or offshore. But the reality of the new economy is that one has to have the less expensive development strategy. And yes with nearshore where you have 6 – 8 hours of overlap you can conduct an effective Scrum. Yes, I have done that successfully.

    I am sure the ones who are haters will send unflattering comments anyway. One should always expect juvenile behavior from small few in each group.

    Thank you for taking the time for reading this, Best of luck to everyone in your Agile/Scrum/Kanban/XP etc. implementations.

    • ScoutMaster
      November 19, 2010 at 11:43 am #

      Razmara, thanks a bunch for your insight here.

      We here at AgileScout are here to inform the public of Agile News. Not bring down people or businesses. We, however, cannot control our viewers, opinionated or not.

      This article was meant to bring this particular piece of news to the forefront. Our well-informed readers brought a whole different game into the mix. It’s the internet after all.

      Thanks for providing the community a rebuttal of character.

    • Derek Huether
      November 19, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

      I want to add that with every forum, there will be haters. But, within the Agile community, I don’t see them as being trolls. There is a difference.

      I see trolls as people who think they are smarter than everyone else and try to remind everyone at every turn. But, in the end, they rarely add any real value to the conversation.

      People can be perceived as haters because they are passionate about something. Unlike the trolls, I see the Agile community as being much more humble. The “hate” being exhibited is actually a passionate cry to not screw this up for everyone else.

      I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve had to fight this fight with a CIO who defined Agile and Scrum his way. Regardless if it countered what the leading Agilists were saying, he got it in his head how Agile or Scrum were supposed to be.

      Yes, we have our zealots. Who doesn’t? These are the most passionate of our Agile family. But without them, the moderate thinkers will become complacent and we may lose our way. I’m not saying Agile can not evolve. I just think of our zealots as a sticky note at the top of the board, reminding us of our core values and principles.

  10. Geert Bossuyt
    January 5, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I totally agree on your statement ! Agile is not a methodology !

    I beleive it’s more than a framework. I think it’s a mindset.

    http://blog.xebia.com/2010/06/11/agile-is-not-a-methodology-its-a-mindset/

  11. Geert Bossuyt
    January 5, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I totally agree with your statement that Agile is not a methododology.

    More than a framework, it’s a mindset !
    http://blog.xebia.com/2010/06/11/agile-is-not-a-methodology-its-a-mindset/

    • peter
      January 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

      Agreed! Thanks for the link!

  12. John Quingly
    January 8, 2011 at 3:35 pm #

    This video is a typical example from people who simply don’t understand the potential of Agile or just simply don’t understand Agile at all:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvks70PD0Rs

    • peter
      January 9, 2011 at 1:10 am #

      Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

      • Robert
        August 31, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

        This video always cracks me up, it sounds like two managers at many of my clients asking me formhelp being agile…great article scout, keep ‘em coming!

  13. Renard
    December 21, 2012 at 5:46 am #

    agreed. knowledge is power.
    Well appreciated. I’ve had more conversations with headhunters, PMs and Directors alike about this, just as the video highlights. No, the language was not nearly as spicey. Ha

    • peter
      December 24, 2012 at 12:05 am #

      What would happen if you were to spice it up? :)

  14. zenithch600
    November 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    The definition of a methodology is: the methods or organizing principles underlying a particular art, science, or other area of study

    Based on the definition of methodology and the very fact that the Agile Manefesto was developed from a set of 12 core principles that the founding fathers could agree upon seems to suggest that yes, it is a methodology. A methodology does not have to be perscribed. A methodology can simploy be the principles underlying a particular science…

    Seems like a lot of fuss over nothing.

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