Does Agile Have to Hurt?

Agile was born of good intentions. The framers of the Agile Manifesto were seeking better ways to make software–and they declared their highest priority was to create value for their customers.

And yet, it’s brought so much pain and unhappiness to the software creation process. This is a shame because Agile is a very humane approach to software development, but it requires change.

Agile process disrupts the old normal rhythm of software development. It offers to replace that rhythm with something better, something much more effective, and something that makes it possible to deliver more value to customers. And this is all well and good, but…change is hard.

Agile, though it declares an intention to be a cross-functional system (“Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.”) is primarily a movement of technical people. Most of the early adopters have been software developers–and to their credit, they have taken up the challenge of agile by inventing tools, methods, and systems that replace old ways of working with newer, more “agile” methods. And as a result, we’ve seen Agile spread broadly into technical organizations. We’re probably in the “late majority” stage of agile adoptions at this point.

But as technology organizations lead the adoption of Agile, the non-technical teams that work with them have struggled–and in many cases, continue to struggle. This is because the traditional ways these groups plan and deliver work must also change in order to mesh well with Agile–and there are fewer Agile tools, techniques, and processes for design, product management, marketing, sales, and finance.

The good news though is that the last five years have given us many good tools towards more agile oriented non-technical work. These tools are real, they work, and they ease the pain of Agile adoption across functions and roles. Eric Ries and Steve Blank have given us the Lean Startup for example, which is a set of tools that entrepreneurs, product managers, and marketers can use towards a more agile approach.

My work has focused largely on Lean UX, a set of techniques that extends Agile and Lean Startup techniques deeply into the product team. It helps designers, product managers, and developers (and marketers, QA people, BAs, etc.) work together in a more collaborative, more effective way.

If your team is in the middle of an Agile process transformation and are having trouble, you should check out my book, and come to my workshop in November in London. Or just shoot me a note. I’d love to connect.

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