“Agile” vs. agility

About two years ago, I wrote a post called The anti-Agile manifesto, which has been the most often accessed post on this blog since then. After experiencing enough Agile to make me quit a job, I still stand by it; “Agile” is a senseless set of rituals that is supposed to magically cause productivity. Still, there are a few good ideas behind it that, better expressed, would be worth salvaging. This year Dave Thomas, one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto posted a new article, “Agile Is Dead (Long Live Agility),” which brings out the gulf between the authors’ original aim and what “Agile” has become.

The Agile Manifesto was badly written and caused the problems that followed. But the idea which made “Agile” appeal to people was the one of responding rapidly to change and keeping development iterations short. This, not stand-up meetings, “stories” that must fit prescribed formulas, walls full of Post-It notes, Fibonacci number cards, doing without documentation, and high-priced “scrum masters” to bring in when none of those things work, is what’s worth aiming for. I like Thomas’s distinction between “agility” as a way of doing things and “Agile” as a senseless noun.

I’ve found myself arguing lately for better responsiveness to changing software requirements, for improved communication among developers and feedback loops with stakeholders. If this were what Agile meant, I’d be all for it. Call it “agility” or “effective communication” or “feedback management” or whatever you like. Following a set of rituals doesn’t improve productivity, but a commitment to these improvements can.

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