The Lament of the Agile Practitioner

I got involved with Extreme Programming in 2000. Loved it. Best thing since sliced bread, yadda yadda. I was completely spoiled for other kinds of work.

So when that contract ended, I went looking for other opportunities to do XP. But guess what? In 2001, there weren't any. So I started teaching people how to do it. Bam! I'm a consultant.

Several lean years later (I don't mean Lean, I mean ramen), I'm figuring out this consulting thing. I've got a network, I've got business entity, people actually call me, and oh, oh, and I make a real damn difference.

Then Agile starts getting really popular. Certification starts picking up. Scrum's the new hotness, XP's too "unrealistic." I start noticing some of my friends in the biz are dropping out, going back to start companies or lead teams or something real. But I stick with it. I'm thinking, "Sure, there's some bottom feeders creeping in, but Agile's still based on a core of people who really care about doing good work. Besides, if we all leave, what will keep Agile on track?"

It gets worse. Now I'm noticing that there are certain clients that simply won't be successful. I can tell in a phone screen. And it's not Scrum's fault, or certification, or anything. It's the clients. They want easy. I start getting picky, turning them down, refusing to do lucrative but ineffective short-term training.

Beck writes XP Explained, 2nd edition. People talk about Agile "crossing the chasm." I start working on the 2nd edition XP Pocket Guide with chromatic and it turns into The Art of Agile Development. We try to write it for the early majority--the pragmatics, not the innovators and early adopters that were originally attracted to Agile and are now moving on to other things. It's a big success, still is.

It gets worse. The slapdash implementations of Agile now outnumber the good ones by a huge margin. You can find two-day Scrum training everywhere. Everybody wants to get in on the certification money train. Why? Clients won't send people to anything else. The remaining idealists are either fleeing, founding new brands, or becoming Certified Scrum Trainers.

I write The Decline and Fall of Agile. Martin Fowler writes Flaccid Scrum. I write Stumbling through Mediocrity. At conferences, we early adopters console each other by saying, "The name 'Agile' will go away, but that's just because practices like TDD will just be 'the way you do software.'" I start looking very seriously for other opportunities.

That was six years ago.


Believe it or not, things haven't really gotten worse since then. Actually, they've gotten a bit better. See, 2-5 years is about how long a not-really-Agile Agile team can survive before things shudder to a complete halt. But not-quite-Agile was Actually. So. Much. Better. (I know! Who could believe it?) than what these terribly dysfunctional organizations were doing before that they're interested in making Agile work. So they're finally investing in learning how to do Agile well. Those shallow training sessions and certifications I decried? They opened the door.

And so here we are, 2014. People are complaining about the state of Agile, saying it's dying. I disagree. I see these "Agile is Dying" threads as a good thing. Because they mean that the word is getting out about Agile-in-name-only. Because every time this comes up, you have a horde of commenters saying "Yeah! Agile sucks!" But... BUT... there's also a few people who say, "No, you don't understand, I've seen Agile work, and it was glorious." That's amazing. Truly. I've come to believe that no movement survives contact with the masses. After 20 years, to still have people who get it? Who are benefiting? Whose lives are being changed?

That means we have a shot.

And as for me... I found that opportunity, so I get to be even more picky about where I consult. But I continue to fight the good fight. Diana and I produced the Agile Fluency™ model, a way of understanding and talking about the investments needed, and we're launching the Agile Fluency Project later this month. We've already released the model, permissive license, for everyone to use. Use it.

Because Agile has no definition, just a manifesto. It is what the community says it is. It always has been. Speak up.

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