Scary isn’t it.
Agile, the edgy counterpoint to high ceremony, heavyweight, quality-of-result-depends-on-quality-of-process methodologies, could become just another vapid marketing buzzword.
How does this happen, you ask? It’s an old pattern:
- A group of Really Smart People notice a Problem and create a Solution. They share their Solution with the Industry.
- Others recognize the coolness, usefulness, righteousness, niftyness, or downright practicality of the Solution. They adopt the Solution.
- The Solution works, at least for some of the people, some of the time. Those who succeed with the Solution tell others, prompting the widespread response: “Hey! I gotta get me some of that!” The increased demand prompts more books/classes/conferences/services/products, and the hype from these new offerings in turn fuels increased demand, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of publicity.
- Executives hear about the Solution and mandate it, top-down.
- The Solution has now taken on a life of its own, and will be exploited as a Key Value Proposition by Mega-Vendors that sell to Executives.
This has happened before and will happen again. It’s not just Agile. We’ve seen this happen with specific programming languages (now with Java!), general technology (AJAX is Web 2.0!), open source (Free is Good!), other process models (Now Level 5!), and even the Internet itself (e-Everything!).
I’m fatalistic about the pattern. It’s inevitable. Even if Agile hasn’t reached Step 5 quite yet, it will get there.
But that’s OK because the real value of Agile transcends buzzword compliance. Achieving true agility means finding the right balance of discipline and flexibility to systematically remove impediments to productivity within a given context. That’s easy to say, hard to do, and impossible to package up with a neat little bow.
Those hoping to cash in on Agile Mania will discover that Agile is a little more difficult to grasp than the designed-for-auditability Capability Maturity Model. They’ll find that creating a One-Size-Fits-All Template-Driven Standardized Unified Agile Process ends up looking way too much like the high ceremony processes Agile is supposed to replace. They’ll learn that Agile does not lend itself to using statistical process control techniques to run huge projects on auto-pilot. And they’ll eventually discover that you cannot assess Agile Compliance with an overly simplified checklist of audit success criteria.
It is possible that somewhere along the line, the word “Agile” will lose all meaning. But if that happens it won’t be the end of Agile. It will just be the end of a buzzword. The Agile community may eventually decide to come up with a new, more meaningful label around which we can gather. Or not. Either way, Agility by any other name would retain the same balance of discipline and flexibility, and that’s the truly important thing.