Thursday, August 16, 2007

Agile Calms the Waterfall Whirlpool

Agile2007 Day 3. Today, I participated in an interesting workshop on Agile in the Federal Government. There was much spirited discussion about the challenges of getting agile methods into the government domain. There were also a number of stories of agencies (including the FBI and CIA) that want agile. One anecdote even mentioned an agency that recently made Scrum (the agile project management framework) a requirement in a request for proposal (RFP) that was sent out.

Waterfall development practices in the government were discussed and one person said that they didn't understand what made agile methods so special because they've been doing similar things to get around waterfall for 20+ years and didn't call it "agile." There was some interesting discussion around this idea of getting around the waterfall using 'stealth' agile. I thought of it less in terms of agile and more like Whirlpool development because the only way to really get things done in many waterfall settings is to do things under the surface of the churning water that the waterfall creates as it cascades off the cliff.

Jeff Sutherland (co-creator of Scrum) gave a compelling presentation on a number of fantastic successes in companies using Scrum. One example was really intriguing. It was a tech company that had certified everyone in the company (receptionist to CEO) in Scrum and were using this framework to drive the company forward. Jeff called Scrum a disruptive technology. Wikipedia describes a disruptive technology as "(a) technological innovation, product, or service that eventually overturns the existing dominant technology or status quo product in the market." Sutherland is talking about applied Scrum producing such large jumps in productivity that a smaller company can come out of nowhere to take over a market. He also mentioned a venture capital (VC) firm that will only invest in companies using agile methods. No agile, no money. That's one way to dam the waterfall and eliminate the whirlpool of project churn.

The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, Robbins-Gioia.

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