The fine folks over at Forrester know a good trend when they see one, and CIO Magazine, not to be left out of the party is using Forrester’s latest report on Agile adoption to publish their own commentary (Agile Goes Mainstream) on why this is such wonderful news. With Forrester and CIO Magazine essentially declaring victory over software and product development practices long ago proven ineffective in the modern world (waterfall, ad-hoc, etc.) and in it’s place positioning Agile on the throne of Enterprise mainstream practices, you might think I’d be all peaches and cream. You’d be wrong.
OK, before you call me grumpy, let me explain. I’ve been focused on Enterprise software development for nearly 28 years and during this time I have had the good fortune to start and grow several companies that made successful, big bets on the “next big Enterprise software thing”. I’m no Steve Jobs, but my outcomes we’re all pretty darn good… good that is until that awful moment when the oddball ideas I was helping clients to embrace and exploit in the pursuit of innovation were suddenly anointed “mainstream”.
The patterns about to play out in the Enterprise space are predictable. Agile will soon be on every CIO’s buy list, in part, because CEO’s (now increasingly tech and gadget savvy) will see these reports and do as most CEO’s have done in history… waltz in to the CIO’s office and place an article, magazine or book on their desk and demand to know “why we don’t have some of this”, and “what are we doing about it”. OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but you know I’m right.
So what’s my beef? It’s not with the CEO, heck, I’ve spent ten years trying to explain to CEO’s why they’re doomed without new organizational models for innovation and execution. They desperately need Agile. It’s not with the CIO’s, who’s responsibilities are increasingly consumed by the sheer size of the IT operations that are critical to keeping the lights on, NO, my beef is that two very dangerous market forces are about to play out that will produce some very ugly results and these results will be blamed squarely on Agile.
Market Pattern #1:
CxO’s Will Naively Think They Can “Purchase” Agile.. And They’re Right, Sort Of
This first pattern wouldn’t be an issue at all if the world was full of seasoned Agile advisors, ethical consultants and tool providers that all uniformly understood that Agile isn’t for sale. They would spend the time working with clients to help educate and guide them through what most of us know is a very awkward, uncomfortable transition to Agile. Sadly, the moment the mainstream label is slapped on Agile, it’s a market with size.. serious size… and size means money!
Don’t believe me? I’ve had no less than four body shops phone me just this week telling me they’re looking for Agile coaches and do I have any? Why yes, I reply that’s all we do. Great, I need three resumes (not people, that’s comes later). Why I ask? “Because, I have this large client who has just decided to go Agile for 2010”. When I press them for why their clients are asking for their help , the answer I heard from every single company was the same… “Because we’re a preferred supplier of contractors…” Yikes. You can’t make stuff this stuff up. So, pattern number 1 is already under way.
Market Pattern #2:
All Products and Services Will Now Have “Agile Inside the Box”
Yep, as I highlighted above, money is one very powerful magnet. The result of this is very predictable. Because of Pattern #1 we will see clever marketing and sales executives refashion every offering in their arsenal to be “aligned with” and “powered by” Agile. Knowing that big companies like to “buy in bulk” once they decide to do something big, there will be an army of ready supplier’s with seemingly unlimited supply of people and tools that are packaged with “Agile inside”. If companies fall prey to Pattern #1 they will predictably delegate the buying process to those whose job it is to “buy”, they’ll end up with a big pile of stuff that none of us in the Agile community recognize and the outcome will not be good for their organization, nor for those of us with a huge investment in the difficult work of making Agile work at scale.
Mainstream Agile Doesn’t Have to End Badly
Before I’m dismissed as a wet blanket, let me say that the fate of Enterprise companies wanting to “go Agile” can and should be successful. By simply avoiding the two Ugly Patterns outlined above most companies can make good progress towards their goal to start and sustain a healthy transition towards Agile. The Agile community has flourished in recent years with many successes and remarkable people and there are some amazing Agile software companies helping lead the way. As an Agile community we have a responsibility to help grow the next generation of Agile leaders and most of us are doing just that, but the pace we’ve been running at the last few years won’t cut it. We must find innovative ways of accelerating how we teach, coach and nurture others into Agile maturity and success, otherwise the Agile imposters will soon be running the show and if that happens the results won’t be pretty.