The spiral method is just one example of a Agile hybrid.

The spiral method is just one example of a Agile hybrid.

Many organizations have self-titled themselves as Agile. Who wouldn’t want to be Agile? If you are not Agile, aren’t you by definition clumsy, slow or dull? Very few organizations would sign up for those descriptions; however, Agile in the world of software development, enhancements and maintenance means more than being able to move quickly and easily. Agile means that a team or organization has embraced a set of principles that shape behaviors and lead to the adoption of a set of techniques. When there is a disconnect between the Agile walk and the Agile talk, management is often a barrier when it comes to principles and practitioners are when it comes to techniques. Techniques are often deeply entrenched and require substantial change efforts. Many organizations state they are using a hybrid approach to Agile to transition from a more classic approach to some combination of Scrum, Kanban and Extreme Programming. This is considered a safe, conservative approach that allows an organization to change organically. The problem is that this tactic rarely works and often organizations get stuck. Failure to spend the time and effort on change management often leads to hybrids frameworks that are neither fish nor fowl.  Those neither fish nor fowl frameworks are rarely Agile. Attributes of stuck (or potentially stuck) organizations are:

The iterative waterfall. The classic iterative waterfall traces its roots to the Boehem Spiral Model. In the faux Agile version of iterative development, short, time-boxed iterations are used for each of the classic waterfall phase. A requirements sprint is followed by a design sprint, then a development sprint and you know the rest. Both the classic spiral model or the faux Agile version are generally significantly better than the classic waterfall model for generating feedback and delivering value faster; therefore, organizations stop moving toward Agile and reap the partial rewards.

Upfront requirements. In this hybrid approach to Agile, a team or organization will gather all of the requirements (sometimes called features) at the beginning of the project and then have them locked down before beginning “work.” Agile is based on a number of assumptions about requirements. Two key assumptions are that requirements are emergent, and that once known, requirements decay over time. Locking product backlogs flies in the face of both of these assumptions, which puts teams and organizations back into the age of building solutions that when delivered don’t meet the current business needs. This approach is typically caused when the Agile rollout is done using a staggered approach beginning with the developers and then later reaching out to the business analysts and business. the interface between groups who have embraced Agile and those that  have not often generates additional friction, often blamed on Agile making further change difficult.

Testing after development is “done.” One of the most pernicious Agile hybrids is testing the sprint after development is complete. I have heard this hybrid called “development+1 sprint.” In this scenario a team will generate a solution (functional code if this is a software problem), demo it to customers, and declare it to be done, and THEN throw it over the wall to testers. Testers will ALWAYS find defects, which requires them to throw the software back over the wall either to be worked on, disrupting the current development sprint, or to be put on the backlog to be addressed later. Agile principles espouse the delivery of shippable software (or at least potentially shippable) at the end of every sprint. Shippable means TESTED. Two slightly less pernicious variants of this problem are the use of hardening sprints or doing all of the testing at the end of the project. At least in those cases you are not pretending to be Agile.

How people work is the only cut and dry indicator of whether an organization is Agile or not. Sometimes how people work is reflection of a transition; however, without a great deal of evidence that the transition is moving along with alacrity, I assume they are or will soon be stuck. When a team or organization adopts Agile, pick a project and have everyone involved with that project adopt Agile at the same time, across the whole flow of work. If that means you have to coach one whole project or team at a time, so be it. Think of it as an approach that slices the onion, addressing each layer at the same time rather than peeling it layer by layer.

One final note: Getting stuck in most of these hybrids is probably better than the method(s) that was being used before. This essay should not be read as an indictment of people wrestling with adopting Agile, but rather as a prod to continue to move forward.