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Looking for direction at Agile 2016

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“To some extent Agile isn’t a solved problem.”

“Agile needs to freaking grow up.”

“We need to stop calling it Agile.”

“We need to stop saying Agile makes it easy to go faster.”

“Agile got us going, but DevOps is going to take us where we need to go.”

In the conference rooms of Agile 2016 in Atlanta this week, there was a lot of talk about where Agile is today. At 15 years old, Agile, in one sense, is maturing and going strong. But, even among those who preach it – and make a living from it – there is just a hint of unease when it comes to talking about the future.

Nowhere was this more obvious than during the session “2020: The State of Agile.” Moderated by Jann Thomas, a former developer, with three Agile coaches as panelists, this session was standing room only. But, as the session progressed, more and more people started to leave. The issue, it seemed to me, and in discussion with other attendees later, is that people were looking for a practical road map for Agile’s next few years. They wanted to hear, head on, how to tackle the challenges. What about new technology, what about DevOps, what about the fact that this can be so very difficult to get right?

The panelists were clearly frustrated with Agile’s “reputation” but their solutions were cosmetic in nature. One suggested renaming Agile (“it’s tainted” by folks who couldn’t do it correctly), and then offered up a slew of catch phrases including “bring your femininity to the job,” allow “openness and compassion,” “speak from your heart” and “bring your vulnerability.” At this point, a lot of people were leaving and one man raised his hand and suggested his CEO simply wouldn’t want to hear those things. There was nervous laughter at that.

And when the group did try to get a bit more nitty gritty, they suggested de-coupling Agile from speed of delivery. Don’t focus on faster delivery, focus on “sooner.” Is there really a difference here? They insisted there was but I am still not so certain.

This session left me – and many others I spoke with – feeling deflated. Change is coming, whether it’s via the Internet of Things, the cloud, or DevOps. Change doesn’t have to mean the end of Agile – after all, it’s quite diluted already given the thousands of different ways companies “do” Agile. But in order to roll with change, and grow from it, you need to acknowledge it. Agile needs practical and unfortunately for much of this week what we heard were platitudes.

It is, indeed, time for Agile to grow up and take the next steps.