Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What makes Agile work

In my career, I have seen team after team struggle to 'succeed' at implementing Agile. I asked a recent Product Owner who felt that the team had been partially successful, but still had a way to go, what he felt made Agile successful on his team. His answer was enlightening. He said 'the ability to change.' In essence, this is a tautology. Agility is the ability to change. It is why one would chose to implement Agile. It is not however, what makes Agile work. This is unfortunately typical. A team will focus on one practice or outcome of Agile as being the be-all of Agile. In so doing their focus creates false expectations and at the same time prevents them from focusing on making the changes necessary to harness Agile most effectively.

So what is it that make Agile work? Let us look at the Agile Manifesto and the Principles behind it. Over and over again, one concept is referred to: People develop software. (Humanitatem Progressio Progressus) In other words, Agile is successful when it recognizes that Human Beings are the core component of the development process; not tools, not methodologies, not practices, not languages. Once we recognize that Humans, and not just Humans in the broad sense, but specific individuals, we are faced with individuals who each bring specific strengths and weaknesses to the development effort. From here on out, everything else in Agile is simply about helping teams enhance the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of individuals on them. The primary tool which Agile uses for this is tight feedback loops. Agile fosters communication so that the dangers of weaknesses can be exposed and avoided and strengths can be shared or leveraged quickly.

This brings me to the failure point for every team I have seen struggle with Agile. Something gets in the way of the communication. While I intend to post on technical issues as well, my primary focus for this Blog is to explore the ways communication breaks down on Agile teams and what tools Agile methodologies have to solve this. Where the methodologies do not propose a direct solution, I hope to bring you thoughts from practice and professionals on tactics used to bring Agile teams back on course, keeping the principles and the humanity of software development in mind.