“Agile” considered redundant

Software July 29th, 2010

I have many pet hates, one of them is the term “agile” when talking “agile software methodology” or “agile software process”. It’s not any of the actual processes that I dislike, it’s the use of the term “agile”. I think it’s overused to the point where it no longer means anything. When people talk about agile methodologies they contrast them with “traditional” methodologies, usually the waterfall methodology. This is where it starts to irk me – why is it that there are thousands of agile methodologies, and ONE non-agile methodology. And in fact if you made a process which was essentially lots of shorter waterfall methodologies you could probably pass it off as an agile process. So this is why I think the term “agile” is a completely redundant term.

Anything that is essentially an iterative methodology is labeled as agile. And because most processes are iterative due to the nature of projects (i.e. requirements change, regardless of software industry) pretty much every software process out there is agile. Which of course means that the “agile” is completely redundant and can be dropped and we can return to talking about processes, rather than agile processes.

I thought of an analogy which goes some way to explaining my distaste of the term “Agile”.

 <em>“Agile” is to software process what “award winning pies” is to a bakery. </em>

i.e. What bakery doesn’t have award winning pies?

Essentially any process, agile or not, has a series of steps to follow, and a bunch of techniques and tools which help software quality (e.g. pair programming) or some other software or project attribute (e.g. you measure earned value to predict completion time). If you take anything which is iterative and produces something, and then grab a bunch of these techniques, and give it a process metaphore (e.g. SCRUM has “sprints” etc) and you’ve got yourself a new agile process. No wait, let me take that back, you’ve got yourself a new process. We don’t need the term agile, because it doesn’t mean anything anymore.

2 Responses to ““Agile” considered redundant”

  1. Andy Says:

    Agile to me means two things ‘plagiarism’ and ‘politics’. Plagiarism because there is nothing new in many of the ‘agile’ processes, they simply have taken ideas from ‘traditional’ processes and renamed them with some fuzzy terms, without acknowledging the people who they have stole their ideas from. Politics in that they use political spin in the deliberate misrepresentation of traditional methods in order to deceive people, particularly businesses, into thinking agile is something fresh and new. The classic of course is the misrepresentation of the ‘waterfall’ model to give the impression it is not an iterative approach, and that traditional means ‘big upfront (detailed) design’ – yes it is of course big upfront ‘contextual’ design, but never big upfront ‘detailed’ design, otherwise how else can you ever hope to begin to plan anything – a distinction however the agile spin doctors happily ignore. And then there is the hypocrisy of limiting the amount of documentation – yet they write book upon book on the subject of what is agile – but cannot seem to recognise that for the very same reasons they write books about how and why to use agile, developer need to document their systems to describe how and why is was built, but for a variety of stakeholders with differing levels of knowledge and ability.

    According to IEEE research politics is the main reason software projects fail – therefore the politics practiced by agile evangelists can only be contributing to this problem, and have I mentioned, I hate politics?

  2. gemmell Says:

    Well said.

    I don’t really have anything against the processes themselves, but it seems like it’s now a brand. A massive marketing exercise or something. Who’s making the money out of this? Consultants teach agile methodologies? Authors selling books? Let’s drop the term Agile!

    Your comment spurned me to write a blog about “nimble” software processes, so for that I thank you.

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