August 6, 2018

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Agile Baggage

In the late 1940s, a genuine mystery gripped the world as it rebuilt after WWII. Thousands of eye witnesses - including pilots, police officers, astronomers, and other credible observers - reported seeing flying objects that had performance characteristics far beyond any known natural or artificial phenomenon.

These "flying saucers" - as they became popularly known - were the subject of intense study by military agencies in the US, the UK and many other countries. Very quickly, the extraterrestrial hypothesis - that these objects were spacecraft from another world - caught the public's imagination, and "flying saucer" became synonymous with Little Green Men.

In an attempt to outrun that pop culture baggage, serious studies of these objects adopted the less sensational term "Unidentified Flying Object". But that, too, soon became shorthand for "alien spacecraft". These days, you can't be taken seriously if you study UFOs, because it lumps you in with some very fanciful notions, and some - how shall we say? - rather colorful characters. Scientists don't study UFOs any more. It's not good for the career.

These days, scientific studies of strange lights in the sky - like the Ministry of Defence's Project Condign - use the term Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) in an attempt to outrun the cultural baggage of "UFOs".

The fact remains, incontravertibly, that every year thousands of witnesses see things in the sky that conform to no known physical phenomena, and we're no closer to understanding what it is they're seeing after 70 years of study. The most recent scientific studies, in the last 3 decades, all conclude that a portion of reported "UAPs" are genuine unknowns, they they are of real defence significance, and worthy of further scientific study. But well-funded studies never seem to materialise, because of the connotation that UFOs = Little Green Men.

The well has been poisoned by people who claim to know the truth about what these objects are, and they'll happily reveal all in their latest book or DVD - just £19.95 from all good stores (buy today and get a free Alien Grey lunch box!) If these people would just 'fess up that, in reality, they don't know what they are, either - or , certainly, they can't prove their theories - the scientific community could get back to trying to find out, like they attempted to in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Agile Software Development ("agile" for short) is also now dragging a great weight of cultural baggage behind it, much of it generated by a legion of people also out to make a fast buck by claiming to know the "truth" about what makes businesses successful with technology.

Say "agile" today, and most people think you're talking about Scrum (and its scaled variations). The landscape is very different to 2001, when the term was coined at a ski resort in Utah. Today, there are about 20,000 agile coaches in the UK alone. Two thirds of them come from non-technical backgrounds. Like the laypeople who became "UFO researchers", many agile coaches apply a veneer of pseudoscience to what is - in essence - a technical persuit.

The result is an appearance of agility that often lacks the underlying technical discipline to make it work. Things like unit tests, continuous integration, design principles, refactoring: they're every bit as important as user stories and stand-up meetings and burndown charts.

Many of us saw it coming years ago. Call it "frAgile", "Cargo Cult agile", or "WAgile" (Waterfall-Agile) - it was on the cards as soon as we realised Agile Software Development was being hijacked by management consultants.

Post-agilism was an early response: an attempt to get back to "doing what works". Software Craftsmanship was a more defined reaction, reaffirming the need for technical discipline if we're to be genuinely responsive to change. But these, too, accrued their baggage. Software craft today is more of a cult of personality, dominated by a handful of the most vocal proponents of what has become quite a narrow interpretation of the technical disciplines of writing software. Post-agilism devolved into a pseudo-philosophical talking shop, never quite getting down to the practical detail. Their wells, too, have been poisoned.

But teams are still delivering software, and some teams are more successfully delivering software than others. Just as with UFOs, beneath the hype, there's a real phenomenon to be understood. It ain't Scrum and it ain't Lean and it certainly ain't SAFe. But there's undeniably something that's worthy of further study. Agile has real underlying insights to offer - not necessarily the ones written on the Manifesto website, though.

But, to outrun the cultural baggage, what shall we call it now?

Posted 1 week, 3 days ago on August 6, 2018