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Agile Faces a Major Barrier to Entry

Every approach to software development has barriers to entry. (Nothing is ever easy, is it?) Agile approaches are no exception. Let me explain.

Sometimes compromise or meeting-in-the-middle is the best solution to a problem. Other times, it takes an extreme approach to be successful.

Consider the subject of software development. Here are two conceivable extreme approaches:

  1. Tightly-focused command and control
  2. Open and democratic, team decision-making

In approach #1, there is a visionary that decides what gets done, how it gets done, where it gets done, when it gets done, and who does it. The team has no voice in those decisions. They are free to focus entirely on the design and implementation of software modules.

In approach #2, there may also be a visionary but that person operates at a higher level. The team jointly decides what to work on, how to work on it, where to do the work, when to do the work, and who on the team should do it. Thus the team carries a lot more responsibility.

Most companies operate between these two extremes. Generally, those that embrace waterfall development select an approach closer to #1 than #2. Those that fully embrace an agile approach like Scrum, XP, Kanban, etc. are more likely to be closer to approach #2.

See the barrier?

Take a company that uses waterfall. They want to improve their software development efforts so they latch onto an agile approach as the path to better-faster software. They believe that all they they need to do is modify their approach. Replace project managers with Scrum masters, requirements with stories, status meetings with stand-up meetings, etc.

Simple! … or not.

Culture gets in the way every time. The closer a company is to #1 above, the more difficult it will be to transition to any agile approach. The culture (please don’t call it ‘politics’) will staunchly resist. The culture is a huge hurdle — a major barrier to entry.

The solution? The executive management team needs to recognize the barrier and help eliminate it. That takes re-training and coaching for key members of the management team — assuming they are even willing to be coached. But, hey, recognizing the barrier is half the battle, right?

Updated: March 14, 2011 — 10:38 pm
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