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Gil Zilberfeld

4 Warning Signs that Agile Is Declining

I’ve been thinking lately about how agile turned out to be the way we know it today. And the more I think about it, I get more depressed.

You see, agile was supposed to save us all. It was supposed to be the bridge between business and developers. And 10 years after its inception, we should be happy that more than half of the projects are done in agile manner (depending how you interpret the numbers). Agile has crossed the chasm, but not like we imagined it would.

  • Companies are “doing agile”. But they do it the way they implemented processes for the last 200 years: Top-down. First they train the top management. Then they move on to directors. Then to team leads. And at the end, they get to the developers. Remember that “working software” part? It looks like they didn’t read the small print (much like in the waterfall case).
  • The business and development divide has grown. Because scrum won, we now have project managers as scrum masters. They don’t know much about software, and that doesn’t help bridge the gap between the two worlds. Developers still look at those scrum master certifications funny (with some reason on their side), and the PMs still don’t understand that in order to get to “working software” you need to persist with actual software development practices. Because if you don’t write tests, or refactor, your team will slow down very quickly. And that will not produce as much “working software” as it said on the side of the box.
  • It’s been just 10 years and we’re already looking for the new hotness. We didn’t have enough time to learn or adjust. Agile has now become “boring” and we’re looking to uncover more better ways to develop software. Those things that looked “shiny” a few years ago, like TDD or continuous integration, have lost their shine, and aren’t attractive anymore. Don’t believe me? check out the big conferences – seen these topics lately? Much like good management is dull and repetitive, so are agile development practices. But while we appreciate the old ways, apparently we value the new stuff more (without any good reason).
  • We can’t even appear as a united front. We’re bickering inside ourselves. Agile vs kanban, craftsmen vs non-craftsmen – you’re doing it wrong, we hear from every side. And since agile has now become mainstream, it has a lot of money pouring in, and the side (read: consultants and trainers) that shout the loudest get a piece of the pie.

At this point, I feel Agile is declining into what TQM was. A brilliant success in the beginning, and now just a history fact. In a few years, months even, the business side will wake up and say: Agile is snake oil. It doesn’t deliver on its promise (and it doesn’t matter if it’s done wrong). The backlash will be grand.
There is still some light at the end of the tunnel: Regardless of our role in the process, as long as we’re delivering working software, we’re contributing to balance this future backlash. As long as we stick to the original agile ideas, we’re helping agile win a few more hearts.

I hope our collective work will be enough, that results will prevail. But I fear we’re seeing the beginning of the end.

Don’t agree? Cheer me up in the comments!

Reference: 4 Warning Signs that Agile Is Declining from our JCG partner Gil Zilberfeld at the Geek Out of Water blog

Also See: Clean Sweep in Agile

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  1. Good article! The thing I agree with most is the impending backlash from companies who aren’t doing it right. There will be blood and back to the Waterfall model we’ll all go!

  2. Remember, there is no silver bullet! This is true of any technology, process or development practice.

    The article basically describes and to the point the Gartner hype cycle applied to Agile. Hopefully we will soon reach the “Plateau of Productivity” ((see http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/methodologies/hype-cycle.jsp)

  3. Thanks Craig,
    Glad you liked it!

    I don’t think we’ll go back to waterfall, although the main thing behind it – lack of trust – will be dominating.


  4. Hi Gil,
    I think your points are valid.
    If I may I’d like top propose a couple of things that might complement your article…

    1. ‘Agile’ is not a thing (used as a noun). You can’t do ‘agile’. It’s a set of values and principles.
    2. I think you’re right about the different types of methodologies and practices that are declining in presentations and conferences. I think we’re not seeing them that much anymore ’cause people are actually doing it or something like it but better. So the need to evangelize it is no longer there.
    3. Organizations do not adopt an agile transformation from top-down. It is true that upper management gets sold on the idea of being faster, more productive and going to market faster. They then push the directive to implement it within the dev teams without fully understanding their role and how it will affect them.
    4. Bickering is not a good thing but it is not a bad thing either. Sure it has it’s disadvantages but it is also very useful as it pushes us to think about improving how we work and how we interact. We just have to put our egos aside from time to time.
    5. Agile is not a new thing… yes, the manifesto for agile software development was created and signed in 2001 but if you look closely you’ll find the same mindset in E. W. Demings work set in the 1960’s.

    Hope this helps and thanks for publishing your thoughts Gil!!


    • Hi Marc,

      This is an oldie, but has some relevance. I’ve since written a sequel:http://www.gilzilberfeld.com/2013/11/4-signs-that-agile-is-decliningthe.html

      That also requires a sequel.

      To your points.

      1. Yes, but most people believe they can do agile. Rather, if they “do” agile they will “be’ agile.
      2. Again, a perception thing. People believe they are already doing it, they are probably missing something. They come to confs to find that something.
      3. Yes. Agile is a commodity. You buy, install and you’re done. Also, that self-organizing thing is great for the devs, but I’m not letting them rearrange the organization. What am I crazy?
      4. Bickering now is more within certifications (Kanban, SAFe, scrum). It’s really ugly, and just keep the “who is better” argument, rather than “there can’t be only one solution”.
      5. And Weinberg in the 50’s :)


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