Reflections on Agile 2009

This was my first time attending one of the annual Agile conferences. while I didn’t have a clear expectation of what it would be like, I have come out a bit exhausted and quite impressed overall. The size and number of presentations aside, I was most struck by a feeling that I think Alistair Cockburn best encapsulated in his key note address, “I come to bury Agile, not Praise it“. A reference to Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, he explained it as the recognition of an inflection point. That the values & practices we call “Agile” aren’t really so distinct anymore.

Surveys have begun to show growing adoption among organizations and even the PMI has recently launched an Agile Virtual Community (disclaimer, I am a member of the board). It would seem that we are moving along the adoption curve, and as more and more people begin to adopt the values and practices made famous in the Agile Manifesto, I am curious to see how they change the organizations in which we work as well as how our understanding of these principles adjusts based on their application to a broader and broader range of situations.

Indeed, I won’t be surprised to see a bit of an identity crisis emerge as more and more people claim the mantle of “Agile” in the way they work. I am reminded of the example of Starbucks. An immense success, Starbucks originally sought out individuals who appreciated premium coffee and a “3rd space” between work and home. It did so well with this market that today, with nearly 11,000 stores in the US alone, it has effectively captured that niche and grown beyond it. Today I see the struggle Starbucks struggle to appeal to a much broader audience as they have branched into music, bottled water and now breakfast sandwiches. As they try to be more things to more people, they risk alienating both the connoisseur of coffee looking for a perfect experience, and the convenience customer looking for a fast cup of coffee and breakfast sandwich. Likewise, I wonder how Agile as a concept will endure as it is applied to more and more situations. It will be quite interesting. 

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