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Is Agile Outdated?

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I don’t usually get into the substrata of technology in this space, but recent posts on several tech sites suggest that the Agile development approach might not be meeting all the needs of software development. If true, this could cause some real disruption well beyond IT developers. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

What’s Agile, Dad?

Agile was created in 2001 by software professionals who were seeking an alternative to long, delayed, expensive, frustrating development projects. It has a simple ‘manifesto‘:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

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

Agile is often defined by what it is not: the waterfall development model, which requires a highly structured, sequential process through predefined phases: Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing, Production/Implementation, and Maintenance.

Agile has become a de facto standard in the insurance technology world …

Most major software suppliers, and a large number of internal development operations have adopted the principles and practices of the Agile methodology.

Insurer technologists have become evangelists for the agile methodology. Owen Williams, Senior VP of Chubb’s Claims Technology Solutions, wrote in the Insurance Innovation Reporter:

One way to focus teams on software solution itself rather than the development process is to shift from waterfall project methodologies – prevalent in the insurance industry today – to Agile/Scrum delivery methods …Waterfall has its uses, but a methodology such as Agile is needed to respond to today’s relentless demand for technology-driven business innovation and increased speed-to-market.

So, what’s the issue?

With all of the accolades for Agile, I was surprised to see an article by respected tech journalist Jennifer Lent, with the title: “Agile Manifesto: Both Timeless and Outdated?”  While not answering the title’s question completely, Lent makes interesting points, based on a conversation with Derwyn Harris, co-fonder of Jama Software.

Harris believes that there have been fundamental changes since the advent of Agile that are not handled by the Agile approach.  For example, a major tenet of Agile is a move away from in depth up-front planning to management of changes during the project. Harris contends that today’s business leaders expect detailed plans: “The business is saying ‘I want a budget for the next year, a roadmap for our customers.'”

Customers, and stakeholder,  will provide input … A lot of input

Another Agile principle is customer collaboration.  What was not known in 2001 was how vocal the customers would be in the social media world.  The challenge, Harris points out, is focusing on getting the real input through the ‘noise’.

The same is true for internal stakeholders.  This is critical, and not easy.   “You are taking on chaos. There’s more dialog, more meetings, more communication.”

Others are having challenges

Lent and Harris are not alone.  Writing on the SmartBear.com blog, Charlie Martin provides examples of  intrinsic forces pulling people back to a planning (Waterfall)  mentality that can’t be ignored:

  • There is the desire to reduce costs; opposing that desire is the need to develop a reliable product with all the features and functionality needed to make it a success.
  • There is the need for management to predict and plan

Plus ça change

Neither Lent/Harris nor Martin are dismissing Agile; far from it.  Both articles emphasize the benefits of Agile.  However, these benefits need to be tempered by the realities of today.  Harris notes, for example,  that in 2001, mobile apps and social media weren’t factors for anyone.

Where I have concern is that some organizations may have high expectations for Agile that will need to be adjusteded.  This may be tricky, especially if the business has baked those expectations into plans and budgets.

Your turn

What do you think?  If you have Agile projects completed or underway, is the methodology meeting expectations, or are you facing surprises?  If you are contemplating Agile, are you getting the answers you need?

 


3 Comments

Insurance-Canada.ca BlogEditor

Very true, and well said, Andrei. Sir Winston would be chuffed.

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J. Golobic

Not so much a fault of Agile theory, but Agile has become as bureaucratic as waterfall by companies cashing in on supporting software products/training and and hype. Just because one has scrums and uses one of the associated software products does not mean you are agile.

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