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Agile Mythbusting: Debunking the 'Agile is Dead' Narrative

June 5, 2024 | 5 Minute Read

I am an agile coach with a background in project management and have spent the last 22 years of my career working in technology. I've witnessed the many ebbs and flows of methodologies in the software development landscape. From Waterfall to agile, and now with newer frameworks emerging, there's been a persistent rumor that "agile is dead." Yet, as someone deeply embedded in application development, let me assure you that agile is not dying; it's evolving and solidifying its presence as an inherent part of the development process, just like blue jeans have become a staple item in your closet. Levi Strauss popularized denim in the 1870s as working clothing for miners and cowboys. Over time, it became less of a specialized garment and became a popular staple for men, women, and children across the globe.  

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Let's address the misconception head-on: agile is not fading away. Instead, it's cementing itself as the backbone of modern software development. Why? Because agile isn't just a set of practices or ceremonies. It's a mindset, a culture, and a philosophy that aligns teams with delivering continuous value to customers. The advantage of regularly delivering value to your user will be around for a while. The benefits of continuous feedback with stakeholders, customers, and users are here to stay. Most importantly, we are not giving back the advantage of pivoting to address market changes, organizational shifts, emerging opportunities, and feedback. All of this is here to stay, just like cold brewed coffee. Your local barista didn't invent or even popularize cold-brewed coffee. Its roots date back to 17th century Japan, where it was brewed by steeping coffee grounds in cold water for 12-24 hours. You can thank your beloved barista for introducing it to you, but the Japanese have been enjoying their smooth and rich cold-brewed coffee for hundreds of years.  

Having transitioned from a Waterfall method of application development role to one based on agile values and principles, I've seen firsthand the transformative power that agility can bring to an organization. It is not about breaking down projects into manageable sprints or conducting daily Scrums. It's about fostering collaboration, adaptability, and responsiveness to change – vital qualities in today's fast-paced digital landscape.  

Much like power steering in automobiles, agility has transitioned from being a cutting-edge feature to a standard component in the toolkit of successful development teams. I can imagine quite a few people reading this are asking themselves, "What is power steering?" Power steering has become such a standard automotive system that many people have never driven without it. Believe me, you would know if you had. In 1951, Cadillac pioneered power steering in the US, greatly reducing the physical strength a driver needed to turn the steering wheel. However, turning the steering wheel with ease was considered a luxury feature you had to pay extra for. Many US manufacturers did not popularize the adoption of power steering until the 1970s, and it wasn't until the 1990s that most US vehicles included it as a standard feature. It is 2024, and I doubt most car manufacturers even mention traditional power steering as a feature in their marketing material. Like power steering, you might hear less about agility because it has become so ubiquitous, and like a car without power steering, you will notice when an organization does not embrace an agile mindset. 

Now, back to agility. Agility's principles have become deeply ingrained in how teams approach their work, enabling them to navigate complexities quickly and efficiently. Moreover, agility's impact is more expansive than only software development. Its principles have permeated across countless industries because they resonate with the fundamental principles of effective project management: transparency, communication, and delivering value iteratively. You don't believe me? Shoot me an email, and I will connect you to some brilliant people who can teach you how to drill a new oil well using Scrum, implement a new hiring process using Kanban, or optimize an organization's supply chain utilizing a hybrid method.  

Agility has its challenges, and I will not write this and act as if it is a silver bullet for all your issues. Scaling Agile in large organizations, maintaining momentum amidst changing priorities, ensuring alignment across diverse teams, and organizational cultures opposed to change are all daunting tasks that can slow the progress of agility. However, these challenges are rarely insurmountable. With the right mindset, tools, and support, organizations can navigate these hurdles and reap the benefits of agility. Imagine where we would be if Louis Ballast was not persistent with cheese being the perfect topping for a hamburger. The hamburger was popularized in the US in the Golden Age of Beef in the late 1880s. However, the cheeseburger was not trademarked until 1935, when Ballast made it a regular menu offering for the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver. It took 50 years for the US to embrace cheese on its buns. Part of me thinks descendants of the people inquiring, "Why would anyone want cheese on their hamburger?" are the ones asking, "Why would we want to get usable software every two weeks?" 

So, what is dead? I feel safe saying agility being spoken about as a new offering is dead. Let's be real; it has been 23 years since the founders of agility got together in Utah and created it. Fundamentally, agility remains unchanged. It is not new and has not been for some time. However, it may be new to your organization or your way of working, and there may be new ways of using it that you may have yet to try. I firmly believe that everyone can benefit from learning about agile ways of working and implementing some of them in your team or organization. I feel the same way about podcasts. Remember when podcasts were new? No? Well, they were at one point. I used to wonder, "Why on earth would anyone want to listen to a recording of an old radio show?" Now, I can't live without them, and there is a podcast for everyone to love. If you have yet to listen to a podcast, catch an episode of This American Life on your way home from work. You can thank me later.  

I hate to break it to you, but the rumors about agile's death are greatly exaggerated. As an agile coach who has seen its impact firsthand, I can confidently affirm that agility isn't going anywhere. Instead, it's evolving, adapting, and thriving as an integral part of modern development. So, let's dispel the myth of agile's death and embrace its principles to drive innovation, collaboration, and value creation in our organizations. 

Do you want to learn how your organization can implement or advance its agile strategies? Contact us. We would love to help you improve.  


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