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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Crossing the Agile Chasm

With companies like Yahoo and Microsoft embracing agile processes like Scrum and XP, maybe Agile is finally crossing the chasm between early adopters and the mainstream development world.

Geoffrey Moore's classic about technology adoptions cycles suggests that after the hype from enthusiastic early adopters, there is a lull or even a backlash while the mainstream decides whether the technology fits into existing business practices.

For agile methods, this suggests that the way forward isn't revolutionary change. Early adopters are usually looking to shake things up, but mainstream users are looking to apply technology to improve current practices.

There is some recent evidence of this, with large companies like Microsoft embracing agile methods (Scrum in particular). Perhaps the project management focus and less prescriptive practices of Scrum were the tipping point. XP has been more of the "radical" method, with practice like "pair programming" often the source of controversy.

So what's next? Will IBM Global Services start singing the praises of XP? Not likely. From a process standpoint, IBM could be what Moore's book calls a "laggard" - they'll wait until everyone else has been using the methods successfully for a decade or so before adopting it.

This is an interesting time for those of us who have been using agile methods since the early days. Now that the early majority seems to be catching on, I'd expect to see use of agile techniques as a commonplace thing, no longer newsworthy or remarkable.

One possible side effect of the "mainstreaming" of Agile is that the more radical elements may be jettisoned as corporations assimilate the new ideas into their existing practices.

But isn't that what agility is all about? Experiment, adapt, repeat? Whether the original spirit and ideas of the early methods persist remains to be seen. I'd like to think that the best ideas will flourish and be enhanced, while the weaker concepts will fade away.

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