Follow the leader?

Follow the leader?

I had a conversation with Mauricio Aguiar of ti Metricas earlier this week discussing the cycle of change in software development.  We decided that in the end there is only one absolute.  The person paying the bill wants value, always more value.  The Agile movement is just the current iteration cycle in the search for the tools to deliver more value. The movement marked and driven by the Agile Manifesto has had a great run.  Agile, as a movement, provided a new framework to think about how work should or could be approached. However, the movement driven by values and principles has faded to be replaced by a focus on frameworks and techniques.  This new focus is neither good nor bad, but rather an evolution and step towards the next big thing. There are four major factors that contributed to the end of Agile as movement:

  1. Method Lemmings – Just doing Agile, and therefore often doing Agile inappropriately.
  2. Prescriptive Norms – Defining boundaries around methods that reduce flexibility.
  3. A Brand Driven Eco-Systems – Splintering of schools of thought driven by economic competition. 
  4. A Lack of Systems Thinking/Management – A resurgence of managing people and steps rather than taking a systems view.

Every major trend in IT has been impacted these drivers.  Interestingly, they have tended to appear in the same order as each new movement has appeared and then evolved. 

Method Lemmings:

The idea of method lemmings was introduced to me by Larry Cooper, creator and force behind the Agility Series (interviewed on SPaMCAST 418).  Larry used to the term ‘method lemmings’ to describe the group of practitioners that have a need to be seen doing what the “cool” people are doing. Stated in a little less inflammatory manner, method lemmings are those in the classic product acceptance life cycle that in the early and late majority phase of the cycle are doing Agile because everyone else is doing Agile.


Any product or movement will ride the product adoption lifecycle.  The slope of the ascent (and probably the decent) will be determined by the degree the product or idea that catches the imagination of its target market.  The bigger the frenzy, the more people that jump on the bandwagon because of the coolness factor.  These are the people Larry classified as method lemmings.  In Agile there has been a passionate discussion about the difference between doing Agile and being Agile. Those that are Agile embrace the principles and then fit practices to the work; those that do are more apt to apply techniques in rote or inappropriately.  For example, this morning a friend who owns a medium-sized consulting firm approached several firms to handle their standard payroll. We discussed the bid from two the firms.  Both were equally prominent in the marketplace and had many years in the industry. One firm suggested that since they used Agile they would create a backlog for the conversion but could not commit to a price or date for the conversion. Another that also used Agile stated that a payroll conversion was a common project and that because they used Agile and Lean techniques they could quote a price and commit to being ready for a specific date.  I would suggest that the later was being Agiler (if that really is a word) than the former although both were probably using similar techniques. The later firm got the business because the first organization’s approach seemed to put techniques in front of delivering value. In this case, at the very least, just doing Agile techniques without understanding the principles, which are value focused,  did not appear to add value to the customer. Just following the pack over the cliff leads to problems and fails to deliver value to customers, which weakens the value of adopting Agile!

Planned essays in Post Agile Age Arc include:

  1. Post Agile Age: The Movement Is Dead
  2. Post Agile Age: Drivers of the End of the Agile Movement and Method Lemmings (Current)
  3. Proscriptive Norms
  4. Brand Driven Eco-Systems
  5. A Lack of Systems Thinking/Management
  6. The Age of Aquarius (Something Better is Beginning)