My vision of Agile

Lots of ivory tower software experts cheerfully follow their own muse, but in the world of business, the dreams of money-makers are usually in conflict with the dreams of geeks.

In the business world, software developers have always been the whipping boy. In commerce, the delivered-software never matched the envisioned-software, and the technologists got the blame. Executives have always been unhappy about their inability to effectively direct and exploit software development. The only tool that seemed to get results for managers was to keep programmers on a ridiculously short leash by allocating resources in tiny increments. The results weren’t good, but they tended to prevent colossal disasters, which was, apparently, good enough for business.

Over many years, in self defense, programmers increasingly hunkered down to protect themselves. They aggressively lowered the expectations of their managers. They tried to commit to the least possible performance to avoid blame. All they really accomplished was to avoid good performance. Nobody was really very happy with that situation, but it was good enough to provide most programmers with a decent living and some self-respect.

But many programmers are more ambitious than that, and most of them are used to higher levels of achievement than just “good enough”. All of that mediocrity has generated a lot of frustration for many programmers. Extreme programming was one method whereby developers could force business people to view the consequences of their decisions.

Extreme programming showed developers that there was power in self-determination, and in reaction to all that old defensive stuff, many programmers have finally said “Enough is enough”. They emerged from their bunkers to become proactive in *guiding* the development process rather than just doing what they were told (and then getting blamed for the failure that results). And agile is the mechanism they used.

I’ve long been an advocate of such technological-craftsman-self-determination. It’s just that I advocated it via the “interaction design” point of view. Therefore, agilists and I are on the exact same wavelength.

Now, there are some agile programmers who think that they are dealing with *technical* issues rather than social ones. If you ask me (no one ever seems to actually ask me), these people are trying to take TWO steps backward: they don’t want to return to the hunker-down phase, so they want to reinstate its ivory tower antecedent, that small-world-coding-happy-place that existed before software went big time. That place has never existed in the commercial world.

To my mind, agile means taking responsibility for making a good product. Even if you used test-driven-development, pair-programming, retrospectives, stand-ups and all of the detritus of “agile” but then built a product that nobody liked or wanted, then it wasn’t agile.

One of the responsibilities of software development is to assure that the right product is being created, and then to create it in the right way. The only way to accomplish this is to apply the best practices of programming, design, and all of the other associated disciplines and crafts. *TRUE* agile means integrating these crafts into a joyful, unified, productive whole.

Alan Cooper
Alan Cooper

Alan Cooper is the co-founder of Cooper and a pioneer of the modern computing era. He created the programming language Visual Basic and wrote industry-standard books on design practice like “About Face.”

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