4 Warning Signs that Agile Is Declining

4 Warning Signs that Agile Is Declining

A post by Gil Zilberfeld

I’ve been thinking lately about how agile turned out to be the way we know it today. And the more I think about it, I get more depressed.

You see, agile was supposed to save us all. It was supposed to be the bridge between business and developers.

And 10 years after its inception, we should be happy that more than half of the projects are done in agile manner (depending how you interpret the numbers). Agile has crossed the chasm, but not like we imagined it would.

  • Companies are “doing agile”. But they do it the way they implemented processes for the last 200 years: Top-down. First they train the top management. Then they move on to directors. Then to team leads. And at the end, they get to the developers. Remember that “working software” part? It looks like they didn’t read the small print (much like in the waterfall case).
  • Business and development divide has grown. Because scrum won, we now have project managers as  scrum masters. They don’t know much about software, and that doesn’t help bridge the gap between the two worlds. Developers still look at those scrum master certifications funny (with some reason on their side), and the PMs still don’t understand that in order to get to “working software”  you need to persist with actual software development practices. Because if  you don’t write tests, or refactor, your team will slow down very quickly. And that will not produce as much “working software” as it said on the side of the box.
  • It’s been just 10 years and we’re  already looking for the new hotness. We didn’t have enough time to  learn or adjust. Agile has now become “boring” and we’re looking to uncover more better ways to develop software. Those things that looked “shiny” a few years ago, like TDD or continuous integration, have lost  their shine, and aren’t attractive anymore. Don’t believe me? check out the big conferences – seen these topics lately? Much like good management is dull and repetitive, so are agile development practices. But while we  appreciate the old ways, apparently we value the new stuff more (without any good reason).
  • We can’t even appear as a united front.  We’re bickering inside ourselves. Agile vs kanban, craftsmen vs non-craftsmen – you’re doing it wrong, we hear from every side. And since  agile has now become mainstream, it has a lot of money pouring in, and the side (read: consultants and trainers) that shout the loudest get a piece of the pie.

At this point, I feel Agile is declining into what TQM was. A brilliant success in the beginning, and now just a history fact. In a few years, months even, the business side will wake up and say: Agile is snake oil. It doesn’t deliver on its promise (and it doesn’t matter if it’s done wrong). The backlash will be grand.

There is still some light at the end of the tunnel: Regardless of our role in the process, as long as we’re delivering working software, we’re contributing to balance this future backlash. As long as we stick to the original agile ideas, we’re helping agile win a few more hearts.

I hope our collective work will be enough, that results will prevail. But I fear we’re seeing the beginning of the end.

Don’t agree? Cheer me up in the comments!

I invite you to register to my free webinar on “Agile Tribal Wars – Modern-day Quest for the Holy Grail



  1. Jonathan Ross February 25, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Interesting but “doing agile” usually is a red-flag for doing some mutated version of agile that is doomed to failure.
    The missing pieces to ensure Agile is a sustainable model are: –
    1. Business needs to be more R&D aware and R&D need to have a Sales perspective > a more holistic approach to bridge the gap not widen it thru collaboration and taking a part in each others tasks at some level.
    2. Who’s your scrum master? I have seen companies and projects where the scrum master is not the PM but instead the best person for the job in the company. Obviously this is optimal but we have to find better ways to sell this idea.
    3. United front: this is as true as people still arguing the Mac vs PC nonsense. Pick the tools specifically right for that job in the Agile toolbox. These aren’t differences, they are alternatives.
    I’m concerned myself but all this means is that those of us invested in Agile need to raise the bar and bring a better game to the pitch if we want to deliver successful products through Agility.

  2. Joseph K May 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Bang on target as to how Agile is getting implemented.

    We do everything in the wrong way and wonder why it didn’t work

    Lots of money involved in training/ certification/ re-certification.
    I see a lot of certification companies striking gold with the continuous revenue streams.

  3. Steve Fenton July 17, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Yes. People implement “Agile” just like they implemented previous practices and so it works just the same. That’s the bad news.

    The good news is that I don’t work for companies like that any more. I work for people who want to do better. I work places where the rules, processes and artefacts are not important, but the principles are.

    Places like this will thrive. They will thrive with Agile just as they will thrive with wherever they take that. They may add or rephrase the principles to work in their context, but they are adapting for the right reasons.

    I am glad Agile is becoming less exciting. It is the over-enthusiastic novice application of “the rules” that causes problems. I welcome a more mature era that values the principles over these rules and processes.

  4. stormville August 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Agile is, to paraphrase Churchill, the worst process except for all the others. It’s developers’ responsibility to write tests, refactor, and in general adhere to best development practices. And I disagree with your assertion that good management is dull and repetitive. Good management adapts to changing conditions, and good managers know to motivate employees by changing things from time to time.

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