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The Agile development method -- rumors of its demise are premature

It sounds like a DevOps world out there, but attendees and speakers at Agile2016 believe the software development methodology has a long life ahead of it.

DevOps is grabbing the spotlight, but based on interviews before and during the Agile2016 conference in Atlanta...

this month, the Agile development method is in no danger of fading away.

At a time when it seems every company is at least talking about adopting an aggressive DevOps strategy to speed up software delivery, it might be tempting to think the 15- or so year-old Agile philosophy is getting a bit out of date. It's certainly been widely adopted -- VersionOne's most recent survey shows 95% of users surveyed said their companies are using Agile -- but it's also been diluted and altered as time has passed. And now this hot, new idea to bring developers and operations together is gathering tremendous momentum -- and some very optimistic forecasts of adoption -- which leaves Agile where, exactly?

For many at the Agile2016 conference, Agile isn't disappearing, but it's not necessarily completely successful as it is. It will forever get credit as the process that embraced a new way of software development and many think Agile made it possible for organizations to start thinking about DevOps. Standing for collaboration and communication, the culture Agile has created is really at the heart of DevOps, said speaker Susan Gibson, an Agile coach and Temenos facilitator who was part of a panel discussion on the state of Agile in 2020. For Johnson and her fellow panelists, Agile and DevOps are not an "either or" situation.

But that's not to say they don't think Agile needs some serious tweaking. "We need to reclaim the brand or bury it," said panelist Sue Johnston, an Agile coach and a communications facilitator. Their concerns? The word Agile is tainted "fragile;" it is supposed to be a collaboration not a top-down forced march, and the focus on "speed" gets in the way of a successful process and sets unrealistic expectations.

"We need to dispel the myth that Agile is about going faster," Gibson said. "It's about 'sooner' not 'faster' and those are very different things." Another panelist, Ellen Grove, an Agile coach and trainer, pointed out how Agile and DevOps are really going after the same goal. "DevOps is about sooner, not faster, using smaller chunks," she said. "It's awesome."

Agile is not dead yet

Agile is changing, certainly, acknowledged Brad Matsugu, product marketing manager at Blueprint Software Systems. "What we're seeing is project-oriented Agile moving to enterprise-scale Agile," he explained. But he admitted there are a lot of people saying that Agile is dead now that DevOps has arrived. And enterprise-wide Agile can be tricky. "Companies have tried one project out, it's worked out well and now we're seeing Fortune 10 and Fortune 20 companies trying to replicate that success throughout the enterprise. But it doesn't work the same way as project-oriented Agile. So they're moving to what we'd call the next phase of Agile."

"Agile's not dead, it just needs to freaking grow up," said cPrime CEO Zubin Irani. "It's time for Agile to get technical so we can tie all these pieces together. If anything, Agile is what's leading the way in to DevOps, but it's got to get serious."

Agile is just expanding its reach

Michael Hackett, senior vice president of testing company LogiGear, thinks "DevOps is Agile for the ops side. The way I look at it is DevOps is an extension of Agile. We're not changing too much about how we do Agile. This is just another phase in the shift left." DevOps brings operation people into sprints and into the process earlier, Hackett said, which just makes sense.

And Agile2016 panelist Jann Thomas, an Agile coach, shared a story from her life that underscored the appeal of DevOps. "It was a mindset change for us, once we understood it was about delivery and not just about 'code complete,'" she said, referring to the level of collaboration that exists in DevOps.

Others like to think the Agile development method isn't leaving but is speeding up a bit. "We're all playing and working together and we're still doing scrum and Agile on the dev side," Appvance president and CEO Kevin Surace explained. "But now it might be a one-day scrum or a two-hour scrum because the cycles have collapsed. But that's a good thing."

DevOps is a fresh new approach

A well-known critic of the Agile development method as it's widely practiced today (because it needs to be a lot leaner), Will Evans, chief design office at PraxisFlow, takes the optimistic view that "at least DevOps hasn't been reduced to something that can be certified. It's not in a playbook or a recipe book and it's not reduced to 'best practices' which is where things go to die." But he's not totally sold either: "I think it's a good thing if people start to adopt some of the principles of DevOps so they can reduce the bottlenecks, but the reality is the bottlenecks are just going to show up elsewhere."

Agile worked, but times are changing

Stephen Elliot, the vice president at IDC's IT infrastructure and cloud practice, said "Agile has been a good thing. A lot of people have adopted it and it moved companies off the waterfall process. But the reality is times are changing and optimization has to be pushed across the development cycle and that now includes Ops."

Meanwhile Forrester Research analyst Kurt Bittner describes Agile as a subset of DevOps but stressed that doesn't actually matter. "What I've seen is the interest in DevOps moving at a much faster rate than Agile was moving 15 years ago. I think we're looking at a 5- to-10-year change cycle."

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How would your job change if DevOps came to replace, or work alongside, Agile?
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I'm confused.   Why must Devops be !Agile?  It seems to me DevOps is an evolution of Agile methods, albeit, one that pushes toward more rapid delivery over slower verification processes.
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I was wondering the same thing. I certainly don't think of them as mutually exclusive.
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Wouldn't Agile be more a method of planning while DevOps is a resource organization principal?  Maybe I misunderstand but wouldn't the two be used in compliment with each other?
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I think they can go hand in hand, and that's what at least some of the Agile panelists were suggesting. And what Michael Hackett from LogiGear thinks too -- Agile is an extension of DevOps. But there's no doubt DevOps is the flavor of the moment, and it's worth asking what that means for Agile's future.
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