Does Agile Have a Dirty Little Secret?

“Most of the project management methodologies utilized today evolved from the processes used in developing the assembly lines of the early industrial revolution…That being said, you might be interested to know that next to accounting software, project management software is the oldest software product. It’s been around, in a very similar form to what it is now, for a very long time.” – Ty Kiisel

So what is the dirty little secret of project management?

“The dirty little secret of project management is that after all these years of software development, the tools have become so complicated that end users don’t use them.” – Ty Kiisel

I was talking with a colleague who is a PMP and an outspoken individual last year at a conference. He asked me a simple question and then answered it himself:

“You know what is a racket? The PMI (Project Management Institute).”

I asked him why that was.

“You have an entire industry: certification, consulting, seminars, conferences like this (the one we were at), software products, and so-called experts… whose entire career and industry revolves around the Gantt chart, and outdated and worthless construct when it comes to software development.”

While I do not agree with his statements, it does make you think, doesn’t it? Sounds to me like Ty and my colleague need to get together and collude to fix the project management conundrum.

But this got me thinking. Does Agile have a dirty little secret? Are we making Agile more and more complicated over time? Is it time to come back to the basics of the Agile Manifesto 1.0? Agile Manifesto 2.0? Agile Manifesto 2.1?

The Agile industry has just as much as the PMI: certification, consulting, seminars, conferences, software products, books, experts, etc. Have we gone too far? Have we monetized Agile beyond it’s original intent? Has the brand been tarnished? Has it lost it’s luster and new-car smell? 10 years later, have we improved because of Agile?

  • What do you think about my colleague’s comment?
  • What do you think about where Agile is today?

[HT: PMHut]

10 Responses to “Does Agile Have a Dirty Little Secret?”

  1. George Dinwiddie
    February 28, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    If anything, Agile is simpler now than it was 10 years ago. We (well, some of us) have learned to streamline our process. For example, many of us now find that breaking the work down into small enough pieces allows us to eliminate estimation and just count the pieces. (Well, not completely eliminate. I use the abbreviated fibonacci series: 0, too big.)

    We’ve done this because we’re continuing to learn. We experiment with new techniques and see how they work. We share our ideas and our results with each other.

    But most businesses don’t want to spend 10 years getting to where I am today. And most software developers don’t have the inclination to study the issues as much as I do (or they’d be where I am). So they’re looking for help speeding up the process.

    Reading books and blogs are a great way to get up to speed. It’s also against the grain of most people. Few seem to read many books on software development. Conferences and courses are more expensive, but also more interactive. This tends to suit the learning mode of more people.

    Certificates and software tools are not wholly without worth, but too often people substitute them for learning rather than using them to learn. Then they become an obstacle.

    Consultants are perhaps the most expensive way for an organization to learn Agile development. But if you hire a decent consultant (one who wants to help you solve YOUR problem rather than one who wants to sell you a canned solution), they’re often the best value. They bring eyes that can help you see YOUR situation in a different way, that can notice the things you take for granted. They bring varied experience, to help you choose between a wide array of possibilities rather than being limited to the one you have and its opposite.

    I don’t think Agile has a dirty little secret, though there are many operating under the “Agile” name who have the dirty little secret of selling what they have rather than what you need. This has always been true, so it should come as no surprise that it’s true of the “Agile” marketplace, also.

    But while there are many hucksters and marketeers who know more about selling than about Agile, there are also many competent Agile coaches who can help companies achieve the results they want.

    • peter
      February 28, 2011 at 9:58 am #

      Fantastic feedback George! With all the blog posts around the interwebs talking about what the signatories figured out at the 10 year reunion, it’ll be interesting to see how Agile progresses to the next 10 years!

    • George Dinwiddie
      February 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

      Oops, the abbreviated fibonacci series was supposed to be “1, too big.”

  2. Brian Bozzuto
    February 28, 2011 at 10:30 am #

    Warren Buffet famously observed that all good ideas go through three “i’s”

    “First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. And then come the idiots, whose avarice undoes the very innovations they are trying to use to get rich.”

    I believe this is a risk for any profound idea. Neither Agile nor formal project management are immune.

    • peter
      February 28, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      Well said Brian. I like this!

  3. Micaël
    February 28, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Nice reply Brian and George.

    You really have to find the innovators or good imitator coaches to help you mature in the good way, it’s a long process to evolves and it won’t occurs without time, resources and courage.

  4. Sridhar J
    February 28, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    I think the design principle “Form follows function” holds good in this case too. As Agile saw success, a whole cottage industry sprang up around it. While this is not necessarily bad, the integrity of applying Agile principles still rests on the teams using it. We now have software for story cards, managing Iterations/sprints/releases, whiteboards, collaboration tools, multi-site CM tools, automated build tools etc.

    But we still have failures in getting Agile right (I am looking at you the-2- hr-Daily-standup-meeting). As long as we keep the guiding principles of Agile, I don’t think the spirits watching over Agile will be disturbed (even when we have agile in a PMI environment or Agile+CMMI!).

    In summary, only those who can adapt Agile to the situation appropriately AND use other tools that have worked for us, we can deliver customer value. If we don’t deliver value, we can all forget about everything else.

    • peter
      February 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      Exactly: VALUE FIRST

  5. Andrew Fuqua
    February 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Peter wrote:
    > Are we making Agile more and more complicated over time?

    We aren’t /making/ Agile more complicated. We’re /realizing/ how deep (and thus seemingly complicated) it can be. Agile has tentacles that expand out in every direction in a business. Think about just one dimension for a moment: people. Teamwork, self directed teams, collaboration, facilitation, negotiation, rewards, recognition, retention. There’s tons written in each of those topics. Some of what’s written supports an agile environment. Some doesn’t. But much is not read by most people in business anyway. But to have a healthy agile environment, you have to pay attention to the environment. We we study, write, and talk about these things, making agile seem more complicated.

    Peter wrote:
    > Is it time to come back to the basics of the Agile Manifesto 1.0?

    We haven’t left the basics. We’ve just going deeper in each aspect of it.

    • peter
      February 28, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      Well said. We have yet to crack open the full potential! :)

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