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Should we shoot agile in the head?

This session was lead by Barry Hawkins, a professional Agile Coach.  He raised the question, “Should we shoot agile in the head?”

Succeeding at Agile

·         In order for an “agile” process to succeed, the right culture within an organization must exist.

o   In other words, the organization must be ready to change.

·         An organization that is ready to change:

o   Has management buy-in

o   Has a failure tolerant culture

§  Failures are celebrated just as much as successes.

o   Has a culture of testing (regular QA)

o   Involves management in product ownership

o   Has a clear and consistent vision for where to take the business

o   Does NOT have a culture of fear

§  Stated another way, trust exists between management and developers.

·         What happens if agile is tried in an organization not ready to change?

o   Revert back to old process after the coach leaves.

o   Go through the motions of “agile”, but don’t actually understand why, or realize the maximum benefit.

§  Do agile for process sake, which violates one of the most important values of the agile movement: people over process

·         Agile exposes organizations weaknesses.

o   This is good, only if the organization is ready to address the weaknesses.


·         The term “agile” is heavily overloaded.

·         The term “agile” means something different to everyone.

·         When “agile” fails (or is ill attempted), organizations attach a negative connotation to the word.

Who brings in an Agile Coach?

·         Development managers

o   Do ask Barry to come in to coach agile specifically (by name).

·         Sometimes called in because management thinks agile is a way to “get the hamsters to stay on the wheel longer”, or as a way to squeeze more work out of their developers.

o   This, of course totally misses the point. Most of these engagements fail.

Should we introduce agile in organizations which are not ready for change?

·         Some organizations will never be ready for change.

·         Introducing even some limited agile ideas does have a positive impact.

o   Testing is the most common practice adapted by an organization (and with great benefits).

·         Sometimes, change must move bottom-up, which requires a slow pace. Thus, introducing ideas slowly is often the a good strategy.

·         Organizations not ready for change can make some improvements, but ultimately progress is limited.  Such organizations will never achieve the full benefits of agile.

Agile Coaching and Selling

·         Agile coaching is a lot like family counseling. Many of the same techniques help an organization to realize where they need to change their culture.

·         However, companies are different from individual people.

o   The concerns and goals of the company are often different from the concerns and goals of individuals.

·         Don’t just talk to technical leadership about agile, talk power (CTO, CEO, etc).

o   Make a business case for agility:

§  Rapidly changing customer demands

§  Rapidly changing markets

§  Rapid innovation from competitors

·         Don’t talk about agile, talk about the flow of information.

o   Talk about adding practices which increase the amount of available information about a project.

§  More data == better decision making

o   Talk about adding practices to increase communication of the additional information.

·         It takes 5 positive social experiences to offset 1 negative social experience.

Agile and Contracted Work

·         It is harder to deliver value using agile as part of a fixed-price engagement.

·         Time and Expense engagements allow for more fine-grained agility (for example, allows for greater changes in direction without requiring contract renegotiation).

·         However, open-ended T&E engagements require trust. To build up trust, first engage in a fixed-price engagement.

What sits between “pure” agile, and “pure” waterfall?

·         Hybrids

·         Many of the technical practices can be adapted even with a waterfall process

o   TDD

o   Pair programming

·         The most commonly adapted practice is testing (unit and functional).

Core Ideas of Agile

·         People are more important than process

·         It’s impossible to know everything about a software project before the project starts.

Open Questions

·         The Agile Manifesto is now 10 years old.

·         What is better than Agile?

·         How has agile changed? What new ideas have been introduced?


·         We shouldn’t shoot agile in the head, but we should recognize that it isn’t for everyone.

·         Emphasize the core ideas of agile, particularly:

o   People over process

o   Information and communication

·         If you look at the Agile Manifesto, and your organization is doing everything listed in the manifesto, then you have achieved agility. (Barry: It doesn’t get any better than that).

·         Get ride of the term “Agile” because it’s original meaning has been lost and perverted.

o   Talk about lower-case agile

o   Talk about agility