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Agile practitioners, focus on the end result -- not the process

It's a DevOps world. So where does Agile fit in? Expert Jeffrey Hammond weighs in on the problems with Agile today and how to keep it relevant tomorrow.

If it's a DevOps world, where -- and how -- should Agile fit in? With Agile 2017 on the horizon, senior technology editor Valerie Silverthorne turned to longtime industry watcher Jeffrey Hammond, vice president and principal analyst serving application development and delivery professionals at Forrester Research, for some insight. Hammond, who was an Agile practitioner himself while in private industry, didn't hold back about his frustration with Agile and its proponents today.

Agile 2017 is just around the corner. Where is Agile today?

Jeffrey Hammond: It feels to me like there is a little bit of an existential crisis in the Agile space. There is so much focus on scaling Agile and one of the consequences of that is a lot of formalism is creeping into a lot of large organizations. I had a call with a customer in the mobile space and he wanted to know what other companies did to release mobile apps faster. After talking with him I said it sounds like he was doing all the right things and so what was bothering him? It turns out that his IT people were telling him he was not doing Agile the right way. His group was not conforming to the standards of other groups in the organization. Oh my God ... have you not read the Agile Manifesto and do you not understand it? It sounds like this company has just replaced waterfall with the Agile process.

When companies talk about what they're doing at Agile 2017, what are we going to hear?

Hammond: There are three phases of Agile maturity. The phase I see are shops which do Agile by process. They are all about the process of Scrum or XP or SAFe. These companies are missing the forest for the trees. That is never what Agile was meant to be. It was supposed to enable developers to get results by empowering them. Part of the original Agile Manifesto said companies need to do what works, measure the results and trust in the people not the process. Now there are a lot of people doing Agile that are left like the Catholic Church before Luther -- they're so focused on the process they've lost their way.

There are two additional phases. There are shops that are Agile by practice. These companies more fully conform to the Agile idea. They're doing Kanban, minimum viable product and design thinking and they're borrowing tactics from different places. If it works they adopt them. They are just trying to deliver good software as fast as they can with processes that work for their teams. Different teams get different results from the same practice and that's a hard thing for large companies that want to standardize everything. But if you think about the way movies are made, every director does it differently. The important thing is to be focused on the results and not the purity of the processes.

Let's think a little bit more about how we enable more people to develop software.
Jeffrey Hammondvice president and principal analyst, Forrester Research

The third level of Agile is the companies that do it in spirit. They're not worried what to call it. Instead they're focused on the culture and building cross-functional teams where developers sit with digital people and business people and they hire top talent. When you look at how these companies work they wouldn't think of not doing anything other than two to three week sprints or not instrumenting an app. Keeping developers separate from the business is not how they work. They create tribes, have dinner and lunch at the office so developers show up at 9 a.m. and are still there at 7 p.m. It's a social culture, as well as a work culture. It's like this: When a group started it wasn't trying to do Agile, it was trying to solve a problem and when the problem was solved they suddenly realized they were doing Agile. They weren't focused on the process or the execution; they were focused on solving the problem.

How can Agile be relevant again? What would you tell Agile 2017 attendees?

Hammond: How do you rationalize Agile with design thinking or customer centric development or journey mapping or ethnographic user segmentation? Shouldn't all of those things be part of delivering software fast? I think so. What are the important things that allow us to measure the results of actions? Agile practitioners need to evaluate how to deliver analytics more quickly. They're really important now. And let's think a little bit more about how we enable more people to develop software. There's a huge developer shortage out there and we need to think how we rationalize low-code platforms with the Agile methodology and the delivery process. Seems like there are a lot of opportunities to evolve Agile, but they don't happen. We have more folks focused on process purity and differences than results. That's why I don't go to Agile conferences now.

And there are other things from DevOps to serverless architectures to Kubernetes -- all of these help develop software faster so Agile needs to take advantage of all these new technologies. We need to be much more experimental and work toward unplanned innovation. It's not about 'Agile only' now. If someone said to me I wasn't doing Agile the right way I'd walk out of the room. It misses the whole point of the Manifesto, which puts people over process. What they can do to work more effectively as a team to deliver software is what matters.

What sessions would be most valuable to you at Agile 2017?

Hammond: I would be looking for any session that talks about integrating Agile with other thoughts, experiences or designs. Also I'd look for sessions on how to measure results and how to do new things. Look for new approaches and avoid anything coming from the high priests of process.

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