November 22, 2010

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Nothing Killed Waterfall. It Evolved Into Half-Arsed Agile.

Robert Martin has posted a very interesting article warning of the dangers of elitism in Agile; in particular the elitism of Scrum Masters as project managers or team leaders, which was never what was intended for the role of a "coach" or "process champion" in those early days of Agile.

Quite rightly, Uncle Bob warns that the elitism that killed Waterfall could kill Agile. Organisations have replaced architects and analysts with Scrum Masters, and another revolt from the people who actually write the software and test the software is fermenting.

I'm not convinced that anything killed Waterfall, though. Like the dinosaurs, there could be another explanation for their extinction. Agile isn't the asteroid that wiped out the Big Process and Big Architecture elite. It's the disruptive influence that forced them to adapt in order to retain their authority under the nuclear winter of an increasingly "agile" and "self-organising" world.

The reality many of us talk about is that teams that are genuinely self-organising and that genuinely respond to feedback are few and far between. As Brian Marick put it, only the word "Agile" may have crossed the chasm.

They say that many a true word is said in gest. I'm sure many of us have first-hand experience of the kind of nonsense described in the Half-Arsed Manifesto. This is real enough, sadly. Too many teams are wearing Agile clothes, but underneath they are something very different, and quite familiar.

Most "Agile" teams I come into contact with are recognisably the direct descendents of Waterfall. They retain the vestigial limbs and organs of command-and-control and of plan-driven software development and Big Design Up-Front. Just as birds are really dinosaurs with feathers, many Agile teams are just Waterfall teams with stand-ups and Scrum Masters.

I've seen this first-hand. A project manager fiercely defended her Waterfall process, so the developers defied her and did XP anyway. And they succeeded. The bosses ears pricked up and suddenly Agile was something they wanted to see more of. Seeing the writing on the wall, she went and got certified in Scrum. And now she fiercely defends Agile, or at least, her version of it. She still demands schedule commitments. She still demands the complete UI design and thick requirements document before coding begins. She still demands that developers do what she tells them to do. It's the same old song, but she's singing it in the key of Scrum. We all saw a way to deliver more value, she saw a way to retain her control. Such leopards will never change their spots.

Deep inside the rational, modern Agile brain pulses the irrational, neanderthal limbic system of Waterfall. And while we may be consciously aware of a logical and progressive thought process that drives our projects, it's quite possible that most teams only become aware of that after their fearful and superstitious Waterfall subconscious has already made the decisions for them.

The elite of 90's Big Process Software Engineering never went away. Many of them got certified and are still up to their old tricks. Most of us are still staying at Hotel Waterfall, under the same old management, getting the same poor service from the same haughty and unhelpful staff. Check under the chic, minimalist new wallpaper and you'll find that familiar old over-elaborate floral print.

Posted 10 years, 8 months ago on November 22, 2010