Why Agile Always Dies in the Twin Cities

Purely based on circumstantial experiential data, Agile always dies in the Twin Cities.  That being said, the same people pack their bags and move on together, or to the other current Agile refuges, to continue working the way they want to work.  I’m terming this the pedal-pub Agile development model of the Twin Cities, the party is always moving on.

When I say Agile I’m not talking about the latest IT initiative to make all their development projects Agile.  But the true grass roots, visionary leader who managed to convince their boss that Agile is the way to go.  Agile meaning developer empowered self-managing teams where no project manger or VP is asking for a five page status report each week.  Real Agile where everyone knows to just go look in the story tracking tool and see the burndown chart and what people worked on recently.  Than that same VP/PM goes and asks why the velocity is down this iteration and how they’d rather have the changes to the REST commerce services than the text updates in the UI.

 Why Agile Fails as a Process

The biggest problem with Agile over the last five years is that everyone is adopting it as the new great process to deliver software.  Alistair Cockburn gave a whole talk on how Agile is dead a few years ago.  The problem is when IT professionals get ahold of Agile they only take the process aspects and try to apply them.  Since to me, Agile is a state of mind which happens to have some well known process elements that re-enforce this mindset, Agile solely as a development process always fails.  You just have a bunch of developers that don’t care about processes or work environments enough to vote with their feet and move on to a truly Agile project.

 Failure Pattern

Even when grass roots Agile exists, the existence is always ephemeral.  Why is this Twin City developers?  Because Agile processes are at their best with new development with lots of unknowns and new technologies being tried out.  For your cookie cutter website builds agile works well, but as the project shifts into production the Agile team needs to shift into both a development and production support model.  DevOps has appeared to help solve this problem but I don’t know of anyone in the Twin Cities doing DevOps yet.

Back to the failure pattern, whenever there is the need for a large program that involves complicated web development and lots of new technologies, business teams are willing to take a flyer on some dude spouting Agile development as the way to do it.  Why are they willing?  Because anyone who has tried to implement a huge program before knows that they are certainly going to fail if they try to do it in whatever fashion the organization currently uses, be it waterfall/agile in-house or handing off to some “world class” service provider.  So having heard that Agile has saved someone else’s job, the business sponsors are willing to try anything to save their lives.

The Agile teams show up and assuming that they are well run deliver something of value.  But then reality sets in and new bleeding edge technologies are now old and gray, the money has stopped flowing because everything is complete and works, and the organization spotlight moves off somewhere else.  This is when Agile dies.

Waiting in the wings are all those managers and financial folks who swoop in and say “this project is out of compliance with corporate standards.”  Since you’ve lost your high level sponsors, you have no recourse to change anyone’s minds and the Universal Development Process flavor-of-the-day must now be applied and the project also needs to meet the corporate mandate for 60% off-shore and blended rate of $64/hour.  At this point you’ve had all your going away parties for the prima-donna (but really good) developers and are starting to wonder where to go next.

Best Buy is the Place

This is truly shameless touting of my current workplace but someone has to do it.  Someday, and that someday is right now, we’re establishing an Twin Cities Agile culture that will last for years and potentially forever.  Once Agile is established at one entire company the size of Best Buy, there will be no going back.  I’m saying it, I’m doing it, BestBuy.com is going to be the first true Agile Engineering culture in the Twin Cities.

And if it’s not, text me the location of the pedal pub.