Brian Marick made a bold statement in his presentation on last night's Naked Agilists Skype conference. The podcast will be available soon but, put simply, his point was this.
With reference to Moore's technology adoption life cycle, Agile methodologies have crossed the chasm between visionaries and pragmatists only to find that, in his opinion, there are not many true pragmatists out there and the only option is to skip straight to the conservatives. He feels that the original visionaries are now spread very thinly across the world consulting with Conservative companies and the development of Agile would be better served if they were to retreat back to Visionary companies and work together on real projects creating new innovations.
Well done to Brian for sticking his neck out and making such a bold statement. As one of the original signatories on the Agile Manifesto and a consistent contributor and leader in the community, he is well qualified to comment on how Agile is being applied across the industry. Clearly, he has seen some things that have disturbed him greatly and has been moved to comment this strongly.
He is also the first to admit (listen to the podcast) that he would love to discuss this much further so I would like to offer an opinion on a factor he might not have considered...
The Agile community is too heavily skewed towards Object Oriented languages and people believe it only works with Object Oriented languages.
Back in the day, the patterns community, who were the thought leaders in the objects community, met up with the leaders in the methodology community and created what we now know as Agile (OK, so I skipped a few steps along the way, but please run with it). Naturally, the technical practices on OO projects continued to evolve and the people involved wrote the definitive works on refactoring, TDD and Agile design.
Let's be absolutely clear on something. I don't want to, even slightly, cast any doubt on the excellence and relevance of these books and I am certainly not trying to belittle the efforts or success of the people who wrote or have read them. But there is a problem. No one is writing technical books about anything other then OO technologies.
So why is this important?
Because Big Companies Are Conservative
The converse is not true (there are small conservative companies too), but in order for Agile to become truly mainstream it needs to establish itself in IT departments at multinationals like telcos, banks, media companies, major retailers and energy suppliers (the list is endless!)
Big companies like these employ legions of programmers, designers, architects, testers, managers and support staff who don't know about objects, don't do UML and think Ruby is a sort of red diamond. It's not a problem though. They don't need to know about objects because they have built their careers with languages and environments like Ab Initio, COBOL, Siebel, SAP, SAS, PeopleSoft, Business Objects, Brio and Teradata to name but a very few.
These technologies are the heart and lungs of the company and the latest J2EE or Rails website would be pretty useless without them quietly churning away in the background supporting the business's ability to deliver. Of course, we know that nothing really churns away quietly, so we need people to look after them and projects to update them and add new functions when the business environment changes - just like anything else.
It's not glamorous or sexy, but it's still very challenging and often cutting-edge work which is subject to exactly the same project pressures as the latest marketing initiative.
Unfortunately, when the IT director at a multinational looks at Agile, his or her first reaction is not that of one of Moore's Visionaries who would wonder "will this help me achieve 10X productivity gains". It's more likely to be "how does this affect my ability to keep the lights on". And that's the right place to focus - failure to do so would be reckless, career ending and maybe even illegal (governments tend to take a dim view of telecoms operators that cannot reliably provide, for example, 999 emergency services).
So what can we do?
Scrum, Crystal and DSDM have shown us how to work iteratively, Lean has taught managers how to think about software development, but a team cannot be truly Agile without the Extreme Programming technical practices that allow it to truly embrace change. It is essential that we can provide documented proof and guidance on how to apply the technical practices across a wide range of modern and legacy technologies rather than just the new era of OO toys.
The adoption pattern is there to see from the OO world. We need expert visionaries from untried technical domains to stand forward, say "YES! This is possible using Product X", and then go and make it happen. We need blogs, articles, conference presentations, training courses and, ultimately, books to guide Agile virgins through the technical practices using a range of technologies. We need to show business software vendors that they can differentiate themselves by supporting their clients Agile development needs.
That's what I am doing, but I can only work with what I know so I will end with a rallying call to the next generation of visionaries:
If you are breaking ground in non OO environments - especially business software - please write about it! There has never been a better time to make a real difference and maybe a name for yourself too.