Agile Is Too Often an Excuse For No Process

Agile software development is an often misunderstood and misused term. In an exclusive new series of articles, IDG Connect offers expert insight and opinion on Agile. In this piece, Mark Corley, UK CTO of business technology services company Avanade, explains why Agile is sometimes just an excuse for no method.

A customer I know uses Agile and is relatively new to it, having moved away from a highly stage-contained, waterfall approach that was designed by committee. At each stage there was full documentation and a committee would come together to discuss it, ask questions, catch up on any previous meetings and, eventually, sign it off. It was a slow and arduous process that didn't mitigate risk or serve the company's intentions particularly well. Recently they've moved to what they call Agile and have a small team to do Agile projects. And really they're using it as a way to avoid documentation or process...

I'm not a fan of documentation for the sake of it, but they've gone to almost no documentation, which causes problems downstream when the project is handed over to new people to support. Agile is sometimes used by organisations as an excuse for no method.

Others try to develop on a ‘Waterscrumfall' basis, combining elements of Agile/Scrum and waterfall methodologies but this is an immature field. They're not confident or comfortable enough to ‘do' Agile so they do an analysis, come up with a list of requirements, list all the sprints and prioritisation before they get into an iterative process. Then it gets handed over to support and with immature customers it can whimper out.

There is a hybrid way to capture some of the advantages of Agile. I like the practice of demonstrating to the business early and making sure the users are involved. Iterations and milestones keep the pace up. But too often in Agile projects you see no product owner or representative form the business, no endpoint and it's forgotten that most of the cost in a software project lies in support and maintenance.

If Agile gives you an excuse to stand up and explain what you're doing and show work rather than delivering a status report every week, great. But common sense should apply in any methodology and I've yet to see a methodology that says you shouldn't have regular interaction with customers.

Perhaps it's a generational thing and a reaction against mega-projects and some of the worst-case failures. Or maybe because of the sheer amount of data that's processed today and the way devices have proliferated, the hype is amplified. But the problems we're trying to address today are all the same problems as before and we have the answers. It's just that people come up with new ways of packaging those answers.

Mark Corley is the UK CTO of business technology services company Avanade


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