Monthly Archives: December 2009

Something in Agile needs fixing

At the recent XPDay 2009 conference in London I organised an open space session under the title “Agile isn’t solving our customers problems because they’re not here”. It was driven by my feeling that whilst when Agile is being done well it is improving the reputation of software development, the impact it’s having is relatively minor. My biggest takeaway from the session is that nothing in our Agile toolkit really addresses the needs of our customers*.

In the short time I’ve been involved with the community I’ve seen almost no discussion or articles which involve any contribution from people outside of the IT department and none of the methodologies/name clouds I can think of appear to have been developed or evolved with any collaboration from the people driving the work.

I don’t mean to disparage all the hard work and enthusiasm people (I include myself) have put in to trying to make things better, I just think the fact that we’ve left out the most important people from our discussions has caused us a lot unecessary of pain.  Agile adoption is never a smooth affair, especially the process of “convincing” people outside of the development department. If we involved our customers more in the process of forming our principles, tools and methodologies we would surely get where we all want to be a lot more quickly. Remember, people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Speaking to my CEO in the pub the other day he said he often finds it “patronising” when we try and impress on him the importance of the the things we’re trying to do.
  • When I first started with Scrum I countlessly came up against resistance and cynicism when trying to encourage customers to participate in traditional Scrum meetings such as retrospectives, planning and stand ups. Nothing Scrum teaches prepares you for this (I’ve done both CSM and Estimating and Planning courses and read a lot otherwise).
  • The terminology we use (e.g. Scrum, Sprints, Stories, Kanban, eXtreme Programming) is totally immature in some people’s eyes.  One useful takeaway from the session was to stop using inappropriate terminology in front of customers.

I have an enormous amount of respect for our CEO and others within our organisation for putting the trust they do in us even though they (understandably) find so much of what we do beguiling and irritating. In my experience you would be very lucky to be able to work with someone who is prepared to take that kind of risk – in most places I’ve worked you just don’t stand a chance.

For me, the flaw lies deep within Agile. It was never designed to address the needs of customers. XP and Scrum were designed for fixing dysfunctional environments. The terminology was designed to appeal to developers. When most of the Agile principles and methodologies were developed the need was different and they don’t appear to have evolved. New methodologies suffer the same – why does there have to be an introductory guide to Kanban for Managers? If we’re having to try and sell this stuff to people I think we’ve already lost most of the battle.

In the last 15 years or so most of the “microeconomic” problems with software development have been solved. The majority of people writing software may still not be doing it well, but the answers are there if you care to look. The big problems are still out there though and as a community we need to start addressing them and I think the only way we can do this is by getting our customers more involved in the debate.

This post is really a rallying call to all those that feel the same as I do. I’m keen to start doing something about this, but where do we start?

*I use the term customer here to mean anyone who is a customer of a development team.