It’s interesting to see how Agile principles currently enjoy a state of obvious Renaissance. Or should we say Epiphany? To our mild surprise, there is a whole new generation of both clients and IT professionals that seemingly just today discovered the virtues of Agile. This despite all the heroic efforts of 80's and 90's pioneers such as James Martin and Tom Gilb and an Agile Manifesto that still resides on a by now slightly anachronistic web site.
Agile is back in the spotlights. Don’t worry though, we won’t bore you all over again with the basics of frequent iteration, time-boxing, intense collaboration and self-steering, scrumming teams. Instead – in true Agile style – let’s focus on the deltas: what is different nowadays?
First of all, despite the newcomers, Agile by now is a completely established, mature practice with many organizations embracing it as their default approach to creating and implementing solutions. There is also a wealth of practical experience, even on how to apply Agile in complex, multi-shored situations. About time to stop the evangelizing, although there is an almost completely autonomous micro-economy of Agile Gurus, producing vast amounts of books (no topic that is more inviting to the aspiring IT writer) and speaking on series of conferences across the world in which Agile Gurus convert the already converted.
Guys (and girl): here’s your wakeup call: you’ve done it. Your mission is completed. Victory is yours, Agile is the new normal. So let’s focus just a bit more on actually delivering agile projects, rather than writing about how to do them, shall we?
Also, let’s realize there are certain project areas that won’t necessarily benefit from an Agile approach right from the start. Although we might all be shallows by now, we’d better realize there is a category of systems that are robust, predictable and have extremely stable requirements. TRAIN applications (rather than CAR or SCOOTER applications) are better supported by well-chosen, slow moments of introspection and upfront thinking and specification: doing things right the first time – when it’s feasible - may save a lot of time and effort every now and then. Having said that, there are very few development efforts that won’t benefit from step-wise, risk-driven delivery in the next phases.
Furthermore, looking at Agile practices themselves, there are some clear changes on their way, most notably the move away from its comfort zone of plain, custom software engineering. New tools are being applied to create agility layers on top of the established, not so flexible core applications landscape. Think business model-driven automation, lightweight ERP interfaces such as DUET Enterprise, mobile platforms, business process management suites and next-gen visual BI tools.
The quick growth of SaaS marketplaces also brings profound changes, as catalogue-based delivery of standard, multi-tenant solutions puts requirements management in a very different light, if any (much more about this next week). Instead of gathering requirements, prioritizing them and implementing them in subsequent sprints of software development, we start from the vanilla solution. Then we enhance it through agility layers – where necessary and possible – to fit the desired value scenarios. This seems like a far cry from the original ideas of software engineering, but actually the roots of Agile methodologies such as Scrum very much focus on what needs to change, rather than what needs to be build. It just takes a slightly different mind-set.
Finally, the on-going consumerization of IT has equipped many business users with their own tools. And they know how to use them too. Self-service BI, visual mashup builders, configurable portals and business rules systems enables them to reshape their own information reality on the fly, over and over again. Über-agility, if you like, with every individual running their own little scrums and sprints at will.
So yes: Agile is more alive than ever. But its world sure looked different yesterday and further changes are destined to occur. All very appropriate indeed.