Why I don’t trust all Agile “apostates”

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“I can hide all day behind a screen with headphones on in any agile process” is the new “I can write procedural code in any OO language”.

There are some good and some bad reasons to turn one’s back on the Agile movement.
Back in the day, Agile was new and edgy and coming across someone interested in Agile, you could be pretty damn sure that they were someone curious, motivated, smart, in one word exceptional. Not necessarily flawless or automatically a great hire for any context, but at least head and shoulders above the crowd.

Go back even more, and you find the same thing happening with objects as they moved from edgy to mainstream. Today you wouldn’t spare a second glance at someone based on their being “interested in OO”.

Does that mean that OO skills never were really all that useful? Hell no! I can attest from bitter personal experience that people who “can write procedural code in any language” are a great asset if you want a software development effort to go down the drain real fast, drowning in technical debt.

This is a problem of false positive rates, a problem of evolutionary mimicry and free-riding on a good thing. Anything that is a cheaply imitated signal (like having “objects” on your CV, or having the black and yellow stripes of poison-bearing wasps and bees for an insect) will eventually tempt imitators.

But does that mean you can ignore the signal entirely, refusing to hire anyone who claims OO skills or eating any prey that’s black and yellow striped? That would be a bad idea; wasps will still sting you, and you still need people with solid design skills on your teams.

Similarly, just because there are too many false positives – people claiming association with “Agile” despite little real experience or inclination – doesn’t mean the label is valueless. It does mean that you should look below surface appearances, and for things that are hard to imitate; costly signals instead of cheap ones.

Agile is no longer all that “edgy” and if you were primarily interested in it because it allowed you to meet unusual people, I can totally understand your looking for something else that plays that role.

But by the same token, among the people who most loudly announce their renouncement of Agile, many are inevitably going to be mimics – practicing the ancient evolutionary art of changing their stripe at the opportune moment, an art practiced only by those not in possession of the costly but substantive attributes signaled by the pretty colors.

(This was originally posted to my G+ feed, where it generated quite the interesting discussion, as it did on Twitter. Although I normally prefer more factual discussion for this blog, it seemed appropriate to post this here.)


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This is an Agile Alliance community blog post. Opinions represented are personal and belong solely to the author. They do not represent opinion or policy of Agile Alliance.

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