Debunking the Case Against Agile

By Brian Lucas

“A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows.” 
William James (1842-1910) American philosopher and psychologist.

The Case Against Agile: Ten Perennial Management Objections, which was well-written by Steve Denning in Forbes, clearly and quite logically trounces the rebuttal from a link submitted by PM Hut and written by Bruno Collet, The Limitations of Agile Software Development.  The rebuttal shows the unfortunate limited and isolation based thinking of traditional management and typifies the significant lack of enlightenment and acceptance of a pervasive reality that keeps them from moving forward in today’s business environment.

The fact is – Agile has already reached a Malcolm Gladwell “Tipping Point”[1].  Its broad application and history of success[2] has ensured its place, not only as the most popular method of software development, but also the very structure of enterprise organization[3] and operation.  Agile is neither new[4] nor is it a fad[5].  Agile is a naturally occurring evolution of thought and action that addresses Alvin Toffler’s third wave of relentless change as predicted in his seminal work, Future Shock.  So the issue with the traditional hierarchic management camp is not if, but when they will finally be forced to adopt and deal with the agile philosophy!  Jack Welch says in Straight from the Gut, “Change before you have to”.  Unfortunately, if you are in the traditional camp; you are already behind the curve of inevitable change and likely to drown in the third wave!  Till next time, keep agile!

[1] The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell, defines a tipping point as “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.

[2] As reported by so many different bodies from Harvard’s 1998 Thomke et al to the Software Engineering Institute Hosted 2012 Agile Research Forum at Carnegie Mellon.

[3] W. L. Gore wrote about adaptability in his groundbreaking design of the Lattice Organization Structure.

“A lattice organization is one that involves direct transactions, self-commitment, natural leadership, and lacks assigned or assumed authority. . . Every successful organization has a lattice organization that underlies the façade of authoritarian hierarchy.  It is through these lattice organizations that things get done, and most of us delight in going around the formal procedures and doing things the straightforward and easy way.”  –Bill Gore

This is a radical departure from the traditional hierarchic organization structure and line of authority.  It represents a fundamental change in philosophy.

[4] Thomas Edison’s success is attributed to the use of an agile, new product development processes. Edison is the third most prolific inventor in history, holding 1,093 US patents. He is credited with numerous inventions that contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications.  Edison established an industrial research laboratory in New Jersey (Menlo Park) in 1876. Edison was a master Agilist of the time, he practiced the following agile principles religiously:

  • Continuous improvement
  • Small co-located teams
  • Results based innovation

[5] See my white paper, The Imperative of having an Agile Organization Structure and my webinar, Is Agile a Fad or an Evolution? Both available on the ITMPI website.

About Brian Lucas

In his life, Brian Lucas has been a coach, farm worker, forester, health care advocate, life guard, general contractor, mechanic, mixologist, musician/singer (in a rock group), salesman and teacher. Brian has worked as a project manager, technical marketer, methodologist, manager, software architect, systems designer, data modeler, business analyst, systems programmer, software developer and creative writer. These efforts include over a hundred hi-tech initiatives in almost every business and industrial sector as well as government and military projects. Among them, he designed and developed a quality assurance system for the first transatlantic fiber optic communications network, a manufacturing system for a large computer manufacture’s seven manufacturing centers, a data mining system for steel production, an instrumentation system for cable systems, defined requirements for government’s information systems and designed and developed human performance management systems. Brian has educated and mentored many over the years, designing programs to discover and develop talent. He has also lectured extensively to a variety of audiences. Brian is currently devoting as much time as possible to the innovation of business agility and human capital management along with the next generation of agile software development. As an amateur theoretical physicist he is working on joining general relativity and quantum mechanics through a multidimensional time corollary on string theory and negating the uncertainty principle with Louis de Broglie’s wave/particle hypothesis. He is also an avid blue-water sailor and wilderness backpacker. He enjoys billiards, boxing, chess, cooking, famous battle reenactments and war gaming, fencing, flying, gardening, horseback riding, martial arts (particularly Ninjutsu), philosophy and psychology, playing musical instruments (7 so far), poker, rapid-fire target shooting, reading (he tries to read a new book every night), painting with oils, scuba diving, skiing and recently writing novels.
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22 Responses to Debunking the Case Against Agile

  1. George S says:

    As the CEO of young start-up AGILE is more than a fad or buzz word it is a necessity.
    Thank you for this BLOG!

    • Brian says:

      Thanks George you are right it is essential. Good luck with your startup since you have recognized the necessity of agile I am sure you will do well. -Brian

  2. Joyce says:

    As a certified scrum master my experience in agile is that agile only works when every person involved for the product owner and sponsor to the business area experts or users and all the development team members are supporting the effort whole heartedly. I do like agile and have been fortunate to be involved in a number of very successful agile projects. I have also experienced everything from dramatic failures to indifferent results. These have always occasioned when there was either insufficient training up front or some members of the team or the organization that the team was operating in were opposed to agile. Despite that I do like this post. Where agile has failed it has been through human failure and frailty not any weakness of the methodology. I believe that it is important that more justifications be made for agile that are aimed at the business user. I have also scanned the post where you have interviewed people you call natural agilists. I am going to read those next. That sounded like a good idea to me.

    • Brian says:

      Thanks Joyce! It is always a pleasure to have an intelligent reader like you. Agile as a concept is strong and proven. Unfortunately the flesh is weak and fails when there is ignorant self interest present. I have unfortunately also seen this too many times. -Brian

  3. Jan says:

    Brian, thank you for this post. I appreciate how directly is addresses the nonsense some spout about agile. I have worked on agile projects successfully for two small companies that were both bought out by larger concerns that did not do agile. I now work in an environment where the CEO wants to do agile because his friends are all doing it. But he does not understand agile nor is an agile thinker. He would approve any budget for training. The CIO is so non-technical and non-involved that he is no help and leaves everything up to his direct reports. And worst of all we have a pool of project managers that are all control freaks that fear giving up control. They constantly assign work, say who can attend meetings, reorder and resize user stories on their own initiative. I have landed into this mess as an agile C# developer. Because our production cost for software is terribly high that is forcing some change, but we are all messed up. I would like to forward this post on to my CEO and CIO but don’t feel they will read it. Any suggestions? Please do not use my last name or email address.

    • Brian says:

      Jan – Thank you for your comment! I try to be as direct as possible in my writing. Without doubt, you are in a difficult situation and I definitely hear your pain. I assume that you are working at a somewhat larger company than your two previous experiences. One thing you will discover is that office politics can run rampant in such situations. From your description of things, I suspect the entire organization is infected with it. Such things usually start at the top, but whether they start at the top by injection or gain a foothold by mere tolerance; the CEO is ultimately responsible. Before you and agile can really be successful in the organization you will need to get the CEO to have an epiphany. You are not really in a position to reach him directly. I suggest that you try to find an agile consultant you are comfortable with who can come in and pitch their services to the CEO. I assume you meant to say that the CEO would NOT approve any training instead of, “He would approve any budget for training.” That is something that he needs to have a serious change in attitude on. To be blunt though, I would suggest that you look elsewhere for employment. The current situation with your present employer will probably not turn around for several years and you as an agent of change will be vilified as too often happens. There are many opportunities out there now for talented C# agile developers. Good luck and let me know how you are doing. Feel free to email me directly if you are more comfortable communicating that way. -Brian

    • Sally says:

      Hey Jan – I am sure we all have some experience with a bad environment at sometime in our careers. I would echo Brian’s advice and look elsewhere and not waste my time. I have seen to many situations where good people stayed at a company hoping it would change and ended up being part of the problem. Good Luck! -Sally

  4. Jack says:

    Brian – Yet another gem! I have moved from the unsure column into the agile support one as you are defining it. – Jack

  5. Jack says:

    Brian – I have passed this on to our CEO who was only partially convinced about agile and has had mixed signals over the last several years. Your statement about agile reaching a Malcolm Gladwell “Tipping Point” was very effective since he is a Gladwell fan. Your post has helped us reach a new level of commitment thanks again! – Jack

    • Sally says:

      Jack – I agree with you that Brian’s posts are very powerful arguments at the CEO level. I feel he is wasting his talent by not posting or writing in larger markets. I read in several of his replies that he only is allotted 2 hours a week to blog. That’s unbelievable! Just look at the quality, work and research that go into his posts. And unlike most authors he is diligent in replying to comments and generous in his replies. I can’t imagine anyone doing all that in 2 hours a week. -Sally

  6. Sally says:

    Brian – I love your quote from William James. I have already used it in a high level meeting and it was very effective because it wasn’t commonly known or over used. You have really nuked the subject of agile myths here. One of the things I appreciate most about your writing is the consistent message you send and how you are able to tie everything together. You are the most impressive writer I have read in years. WHEN IS THE BOOK COMING OUT!- Sally

    • Brian says:

      When it does Sally I will personally send you an autographed and inscribed copy!! I am most grateful for your support! -Brian

  7. Gene says:

    This post was forwarded to me by my manager it looks good. Thanks for the post.

  8. Maryann says:

    Very helpful post! Welcome more on this topic!

  9. Leigh says:

    Forwarded this by a coworker, nice commentary.

  10. Haley says:

    This is the second post I have read of your Brian. I read it because there were mentions in memos about an agile initiative. I don’t understand everything here since I am not in computers, but it is interesting and well written. I am going to begin to follow your blog.

  11. Maryann says:

    I am emailing this to all my friends in IT, maybe it will get things moving a bit faster!

  12. Fontaine says:

    Consider it debunked in my book Brian!

  13. Cisco says:


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