Shadows Cast on Agile

Executive summary: I’ve collected some typical views on Agile from both the software industry and outside of it. Agile doesn’t have a stable good standing in the software industry, and we have to be careful that we introduce it better in the industries that are about to join the movement.


State of Agile in 2018 — My Subjective View

I’m writing this post because I’m worried about the recent developments around the Agile movement. The process of creating workplaces fit for knowledge workers is ongoing since several decades. And where are we now, in 2018? Despite the numerous success stories, the way the world works in the technology sector has hardly changed.

The most recent “achievement” is making Agile a huge business; a buzzword that sells. The use and abuse of the word “Agile” is overwhelming, yet the actual content behind Agile implementations seems to be extremely far away from the original ideas of agility.


The Subjective View of Others

I talk about Agile with a lot of people working in the various domains of technology development. Here are some typical (non-exhaustive) feedback I get.

Software developers: On the face of the developers, I most often see an indulgent smile of skepticism. Agile as we know it today, started in the software industry, and thus this industry has accumulated the most experience with it by now. Unfortunately, this experience is mostly disappointing. Developers have been repeatedly pulled on strings through transitions and reorganizations. The result? No significant change in the everyday experience of their workdays. And of course, the lingering skepticism, interpreted by their management as “those strange introverts in their cubicles are reluctant to change”. Well, rightly so.

Managers in the software industry: Top management in the software industry are neither so indulgent nor so much smiling with skepticism anymore. I’ve even met some who became aggressive when hearing the word “Agile”. For them, Agile is a tried, and for many, a failed attempt at improving things. A lot of — mostly undelivered — promises, proven false after a huge investment of time and money. One can try it once, or maybe a few times, but after all, they are working to get things done, and not to experiment with their companies or to pay consultants indefinitely.

Engineers and scientists outside the software industry: Among them, Agile and the related concepts are still mostly unknown. Even if they’ve heard about it, they mostly think that it’s for software people only.

Managers outside the software industry: Many of them are intrigued by the success of the software industry, especially since the advent of “digitalization” (another moderately sympathetic buzzword). They are eager to learn if this success is transferrable to their business, and if the transfer should be done by adopting Agile. If they start to look at the details, though, they find it confusing: Some are offered Agile as an elixir that heals every wounds and solves all their problems, while many of their colleagues in the software industry will tell them not to have too high expectations.


And so came this blog…

Clearly, for many, “Agile” means something completely different from what it used to mean originally [1]. We are in a situation where we risk to add the whole movement, with all its potential to the list of “nice but failed attempts at organizational improvement”. Yet, I do believe that Agile is more than that. For me, it’s one of the best things that happened in the tech sector recently. So I hope that the upcoming posts of this blog will help to set things straight, for the benefit of all of us, leaders and engineers in technology.


What does Agile mean to you? Looking forward to see your opinion in the comments!



[1] Martin Fowler, Semantic Diffusion, blog post, 2006; Link

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