The other day I had the opportunity to interview Scott W. Ambler, one of the premier thought leaders of the agile methodology and its implementation. In addition, Ambler is IBM’s leader in agile development practices and has held this title for upwards of a decade.
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Ambler has been working with the agile methodology since the early 2000s, when the Agile Manifesto was written, defining the meaning of agile in detailed documentation. “I started working with agile almost immediately right after the original snowbird meeting. Specifically I began modeling and examining the ability to scale agile to fit organizational needs — I wanted to see if the methodology was transparent and would be applicable for larger organizations to use.”
Since the introduction of agile to the software community, Ambler has taken part in, as well as organized, several annual surveys on agile success in business. While a large portion of his findings suggest that agile is a key component in revitalized software success – mainly in deployment time frames – it can be difficult for those using traditional methodologies to transition to an agile environment.
“One of the major problems with agile development that I’ve noticed are ‘self-inflicted’ cultural issues,” said Ambler. Organizations that have become all too comfortable in waterfall-type development have a difficult time finding the groove in agile development — and then staying in it.
“Often the biggest agile failures I see are in data groups and QA teams. These are the groups that have become accustomed to being ‘out of control.’ They are used to being micromanaged and aren’t ready or able to begin thinking for themselves. I look at them and wonder ‘how can any organization could tolerate this kind of behavior?,’ but many do, unfortunately. One of the biggest abusers of power that I’ve seen is in IT governance, but they’ve always been a bit of a challenge for organizations looking to run lean,” said Ambler.
Ambler believes that with a willingness and readiness to transition — any team or organization should be capable of adopting some agile techniques — even in the most unlikely of places.
“I have gathered overwhelming evidence in my surveys supporting agile adoption across the board. It is being used everywhere, even outside of software development and finding success. This economy, without a doubt, is a major contributor to this agile momentum — everyone is trying to lean down the expense of their project and roll out working products in smaller intervals. What is so surprising are the areas outside of IT walls that are using agile without reproach.”
Some of the areas Ambler pointed to were in the defense and regulation sectors, places where agile seemed like a long shot if not completely out of the question. “I’ve heard of airplane and missile manufacturers using agile techniques to engineer fuselages, highway construction – the list is endless. But just because agile worked for them, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.”
Ambler recommends organizations in the manufacturing space interested in agile to check out Real-Time Agility as a reference. But the title is also helpful to strict software developers looking to make their production practice run smoother. The book explains how system engineers and plane manufacturers have been able to bring agile to the physical development industry.
But even with the “across the board” success agile is claiming, Ambler warns “keep in mind, your mileage may vary.”
Just because agile worked in situation “X”, is no indication that it will transcend into other industries, including yours – even if it is a related one. “Many have said to me ‘we can’t do agile development’ and I agree, they probably can’t, but only because there is a self-constructed boundary between their way of working and the way agile works. Agile was never intended to be an overnight fix. And those who believe it is a ‘silver bullet’ often end up shooting themselves in the foot. Agile needs both acceptance and time to work successfully, willingness of teammates and close quarters collaboration,” said Ambler.
So, once again the age old saying fits in patience is a virtue.