Shanghai Skyline

Change is in the skyline!

Modernism, which dated from the 1800’s to the early 20th century, was replaced by postmodernism. Art Deco was replaced by less extravagant architecture. All movements come to an end and are at some point replaced by something else. The mainstay of software development, waterfall development, introduced in the late 50’s and then documented in 1970, was supplanted by Agile. Now, organizations are adopting Agile at a slower rate and with more adaptations that fall outside the intent of the principles in the Agile Manifesto. We have reached or are reaching the end of Agile as a movement. Stating that we are approaching Agile’s end has elicited a number of responses. For example, I had the following exchange on Facebook

Michael Miller So Agile, in the end, is just another fad?

Thomas Cagley Jr Not exactly. The point is more that for a variety of reasons Agile as a movement is over even though some are still in the adoption mode. At some point, another movement will catch fire and build from the base that Agile and DevOps have wrought.

Agile as a set of frameworks and techniques is not at risk of going away, but the principle drive of the movement as described in the Agile Manifesto is being weighted down and by four things:

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

The question then becomes what is next, because there will always be something next. Which is exactly what Woody Zuill asked on Twitter.

Woody Zuill @TCagley Do you have a definition of “post-agile” that you can share?

I am not the first person to use the term “post-agile”. Woody uses the term to mean “We accept all the good things that Agile brings, and are ready to explore and innovate beyond”.  I am far less sanguine. The four drivers suggest that we have reached high tide. But when a wave breaks, while some water rolls back to the sea, some sinks into the beach to feed the animals and water the plants.  The Agile movement has helped many teams and organizations to take steps toward unlocking the power of teams.  Tools and techniques such as collaboration, kaizen events, retrospectives and frequent planning are part of our basic vocabulary.  These tools provide the basis for what is to come.  Which to some extent makes Woody’s definition correct.  The definition I use for the post-agile age is the age of improvement punctuated with innovation. The age of improvement will not be limited to process, technology, or even people improvement individually, but an age where organizations change how they work based on a process of learning and adapting.   When Mike Miller stated:

Michael Miller It sounds like after 50 years we don’t really know how to do SW development — we keep coming up with new methodologies.

He is correct. Of course, we don’t really know how to do software development, After 50 years of software development it is time to try new things combining everything we have learned before with what we will learn tomorrow.  The post-agile age is an age of improvement, even if we are all starting at a different point with different constraints and capabilities.  

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
  3. Proscriptive Norms
  4. Brand Driven Ecosystems
  5. A Lack of Systems Thinking/Management
  6. The Age of Aquarius (Something Better is Beginning) – Current
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