On the Corruption of Agile

Monday, February 9, 2015
posted by daveb

While Scrum can claim great success in its adoption rate on product development and software projects, I would put forward that many of these Scrum projects, particularly the software projects, have not been anywhere near as successful as anyone had hoped. I put forward, based on my own observations, that many attempts to install Scrum (especially on enterprise software development projects) have resulted in a gradual reversion back to pre-Scrum practices. These Scrum teams, if they are honest with themselves, may declare Scrum only a partial success at best. (If they are not, they will declare Scrum a success anyway!).

Agile practices, on the other hand, as originally outlined in the Agile Manifesto, and before that in Kent Beck’s work on Extreme Programming¬†(refer Beck’s book eXtreme Programming Explained) have not been anywhere near as successful in their reach into mainstream enterprise culture as has the practice of Scrum.

Frequently we see Scrum adopted on software projects without co-adoption of Agile practices (continuous integration, automated testing, refactoring, etc.) This is unfortunate because an iterative project management practice (Scrum) imposed upon a software project, without the adoption of suitable software practices is a recipe for disaster.

Scrum teams that have not developed the Agile practices (and technical skills) that enable their software to be continuously modified will quickly find out that their code base collapses under its own weight, as iterative change piled on top of change decays the quality of the code, and gradually makes future change more and more difficult. Martin Fowler warned us about this is his blog post titled Flaccid Scrum.

However, the Scrum “brand” continues to be strong, perhaps because of the success of Scrum in product development, and areas outside of software development where the lack of Agile technical practices is less relevant. The Agile “brand” (perhaps because of its direct connection with software development) on the other hand has taken the hit, with Agile almost a dirty word in some corporate environments.

This is the true tragedy. I put forward that it is much better to have the Agile practices adopted by your software team than it is to have achieved a Scrum implementation devoid of the necessary Agile technical practices. Scrum without Agile practices is a Pirrhic victory.

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